A good friend recently gave me a book for Christmas–always a chancy endeavor, as it can be hard to find just the right one. She hit the mark beautifully though, as I loved The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter by Theodora Goss.
The story begins as Mary Jekyll buries her mother. Clearing up her mother’s affairs, Mary finds a regular payment being made for the care and keeping of “Hyde.” Baffled by this apparent connection to her deceased father’s hideous, long-missing assistant, she follows the clues. She finds Diana Hyde, and in the process winds up assisting Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson as they investigate the Whitehall Murders. Tracing clues to a secret alchemists’ society, Mary and Diana find Beatrice Rappaccini, Catherine Moreau and Justine Frankenstein, all a different shade of monster.
This is one of those books that has such a wonderful premise it’s hard to dare hope it will live up to it–but it does! This is a wonderful exploration into the world of Gothic, Victorian literature, but turned sideways and much more feminist. Each woman (including Mary, though we don’t have full answers about her yet) has been shaped by her alchemist father (or creator), but this is very much the women’s story. Each one is a fully-formed individual with agency, and the story is about them, not their fathers.
In some ways this reminds me of Catherynne Valente’s Fairyland series, drawing greatly from classics of literature, while putting an entirely new angle on them–with an active, realistic heroine (or five). Continue reading “Book Review: The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter”