by Megan Shepard
To be published by Balzer + Bray
on January 29, 2013
Source: ARC giveaway from the publisher at KidLitCon
My summary: After Juliet's father, a doctor, is publicly disgraced for allegedly carrying out bizarre and cruel medical experiments, he disappears. Then Juliet's mother dies, leaving her alone and penniless, working on a cleaning crew. But when Juliet finds evidence that her father might be alive, she tracks him down to a remote island, where she'll finally have to face the truth.
My take: Okay, so the title should have given me a clue that this book is not for the faint of heart! I didn't remember the details of the H. G. Wells story that inspired The Madman's Daughter, but I LOVE historical fiction and gothic fiction. Based on the cover, was expecting mild spookiness but got something closer to horror. If you're down with that, The Madman's Daughter is quite a thrill ride!
I don't think the character of Juliet exists in the H. G. Wells original, and she's a brilliant addition to the story. Juliet is first shamed by the discovery of her father's experiments, then orphaned, and falls further and further in society. But when she discovers evidence that her father may actually be alive, Juliet is determined to find him.
The Madman's Daughter is beautifully written and flawlessly plotted. The book doles out clues until the reader -- or at least this reader -- figures out two of the big twists and is squirming in suspense. I loved Juliet's narrative voice. It was utterly compelling while still seeming true to the book's time period. The setting is phenomenally creepy -- I absolutely love books where a group of characters is trapped in an isolated location. The bad guy -- Dr. Moreau -- is the most intriguing kind of villain, the sort of person who's half-genius, half-madman. The book raises a lot of interesting moral and ethical issues.
In the love and romance department, there was a sort-of love triangle. Juliet feels very close to her father's assistant, Montgomery, whom she's known since childhood, and also to Edward, a handsome shipwreck survivor that she and Montgomery rescue as they sail to her father's island together. At first, I was surprised as the otherwise level-headed Juliet lurched from one guy to the other like a person on the deck of a boat in a storm. I finally realized that these relationships were necessary to the plot, but they never quite felt convincing as romances.
The book's ending was pitch-perfect, with a few last twists that were both wrenching and completely true to the story. But the ending also felt ... final, which got me a little confused, because the back of my ARC said that this The Madman's Daughter is part of a trilogy. Then I saw on Goodreads that book two will be based on The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson and the third book on Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. I'm so on board for those!
Small warning: if you are extremely squeamish and/or bothered by descriptions of animal cruelty, you might want to tread carefully. There was a point early in the story where I almost stopped reading. I'm really glad I didn't. I highly recommend The Madman's Daughter to fans of horror and suspense, as well as those who love gritty historical fiction.