What is this about?: Mary Jekyll finds herself a sister, and several women who find themselves in the middle of a murder mystery, helping Holmes and Watson solve it and where they came from.
What else is this about?: This is about a group of complicated women who find they can be more than what their society expects of them, and more importantly what they expect of themselves. The book dives into their backstories, and given the cast of characters not always as much as I would like to know, but Goss makes this all work.
Blurb: Based on some of literature’s horror and science fiction classics, this is the story of a remarkable group of women who come together to solve the mystery of a series of gruesome murders—and the bigger mystery of their own origins.
Mary Jekyll, alone and penniless following her parents’ death, is curious about the secrets of her father’s mysterious past. One clue in particular hints that Edward Hyde, her father’s former friend and a murderer, may be nearby, and there is a reward for information leading to his capture…a reward that would solve all of her immediate financial woes.
But her hunt leads her to Hyde’s daughter, Diana, a feral child left to be raised by nuns. With the assistance of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, Mary continues her search for the elusive Hyde, and soon befriends more women, all of whom have been created through terrifying experimentation: Beatrice Rappaccini, Catherine Moreau, and Justine Frankenstein.
When their investigations lead them to the discovery of a secret society of immoral and power-crazed scientists, the horrors of their past return. Now it is up to the monsters to finally triumph over the monstrous.
The Acknowledgements section of The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter shares why Goss wrote this book: Why did so many of the mad scientists in nineteenth-century books create or start create female monsters and then destroy them?
That right there gives you insight into the cast of characters: Mary Jekyll, her sister Diana and Beatrice Rappaccini, Catherine Moreau, and Justine Frankenstein (AKA Justine Moritz). And then Goss throws in Holmes and Watson.
It’s quite the mix, but at the core of this all is Mary Jekyll. The book opens on her mother’s funeral and Mary realising that she has no money, and has no idea what to do with herself moving forward. Holmes and Watson are brought in to help her find out more about Hyde, and perhaps gain a reward. However, she instead discovers Diana, her sister who is about as opposite from her as you can get — and the truth of about her (their) father.
From there, this odd pair of sisters find Beatrice, Catherine and Justine and learn about the murders Holmes and Watson are investigating — the murders of prostitutes who are missing body parts.
While the mystery is complicated and includes all these women wonderfully, I was more taken with the women themselves — how they find each other, learn and work together, and more importantly relish each other’s differences.
Mary is the den mother, bringing them together with ease and in part, a desire not to be alone I think. Or perhaps recognising lonely souls like herself. Diana is a teen who throws truth bombs in the middle of everything with glee, and now regard for the rules of society for women — and irritates everyone even though they kind of agree with her. Beatrice is a quiet soul, afraid to do much in fear of poisoning the people around her to death with her touch and her breath. Catherine is a survivor, a woman who is half puma, and as brutal as one if she needs to be. And Justine, perhaps is the loneliest of them all, aware of her size and how she appears to everyone around her. But more than anything, they all want to belong to something or somewhere.
The book also throws in asides from the ladies as Catherine writes this book. They are hilarious and wonderful, and go a long way to defining the women as the narrative can’t given them all as much attention as they deserve. As this series continues, I cannot wait to see how they realise they can throw off the shackles of the society in which they live — and they are already realising that to some extent with the creation of their Athena Club.
The plot itself takes parts of stories you will recognise and weaves them all together and then into something else entirely. I’m pretty admiring of Goss’ skill of pulling all these stories together.