The Madman’s Daughter
by Megan Shepherd
#1 The Madman’s Daughter Trilogy
Audio narrated by Lucy Raynor
setting: 1895, London & an unnamed tropical island somewhere off the coast of Australia
My, oh my, oh my. (Picture me rubbing my hands together in glee.) I just happened across this novel while searching for the word “boatswain” to fulfill a requirement in a reading challenge. I was pondering Peter Pan (Smee was Hook’s boatswain/bosun/bos’n) or Mutiny on the Bounty when I became intrigued by this one instead. I’m so glad I found it. I just started reading it with nothing more than the book blurb hinting what was inside. As I got into it, I kept thinking that the premise seemed familiar. Doh. That’s because it is a retelling of the classic gothic-horror-fantasy-science fiction book written by H.G. Wells in 1896, The Island of Dr. Moreau. This story is told from his daughter, Juliet’s, point of view.
As the novel begins, 16-year-old Juliet Moreau has fallen from an upperclass lifestyle after a whispered about scandal involving her father, Dr. Henri Moreau, a notable physician and research scientist, took him away from her. She had always presumed he was dead, because his sudden disappearance had left her and her mother destitute. Her mother had to resort to quiet “arrangements” with high class gentlemen in order to make ends meet. After her death from consumption, Juliet found employment as a maid at King’s College of Medical Research cleaning the laboratory at the end of each day.
She was not bothered by the specimens in jars or the blood or other organic debris, as she was raised in the home of her father and was born with a natural curiosity and affinity toward medical science. Because she was a girl, of course, she was not allowed to study medicine, but she became adept at eavesdropping on her father and watching him through cracks in the door. Her childhood friend, Montgomery, who worked as Dr. Moreau’s assistant, would sneak medical books to Juliet, so she became quite knowledgeable on her own.
Juliet unintentionally finds herself caught up in a couple minor scandals herself, one caused by a lecherous older man who works at King’s College. She injures him after his attempt to molest her. Of course, the fallout would affect her more than the old coot, so she knew she would no longer have a job. Around the same time, she runs into her old friend, Montgomery, who had disappeared the same time as her father. She learns from him that Dr. Moreau is still alive and is doing research on a tropical island. She is devastated that he just abandoned her and never sent word (or money), yet she is thrilled to know he is alive and well. She is now determined to find him and decides to go back with Montgomery when his ship returns to the island.
Along the way, they rescue a young man adrift in a small dinghy and bring him to the island as well, planning to send him on his way with the next trading ship (which could take a year or more). When they reach the island, Juliet is taken aback by her father’s lukewarm welcome, and to his acerbic and violent reaction upon seeing the rescued man, Edward Prince.
Her father’s dark side continues to show itself as Juliet and Edward learn more about his research and what he is creating on the island. Juliet feels drawn to Edward, who is obviously smitten with her and feels protective toward her, but she cannot let go of her longtime feelings for her old friend, Montgomery, whom she feels safe with and always looked up to and adored. All throughout, she is confused by her newfound feelings and goes back and forth dreaming about both men. Torn between two lovers, feeling like a fool…
We learn more about Dr. Moreau’s unusual experiments, using the torturous and cruel method of vivisection (and without using anesthetic), as he fuses together parts from different living beings, intermingling species. He has many of his creatures there on the island, some in more advanced forms than others. Many are deformed, some are very intelligent with human-like qualities, others cannot speak or have mutated into dangerous horrific beings. He’s learned to interfere with brain function, removing or tweaking certain areas in order to eradicate less desirable features or to improve functions to a higher level. Dr. Moreau is playing at being a god.
There is a lot to debate regarding the ethics of how new information is discovered and used to achieve advancements in certain scientific areas when the power to do so is put in the wrong hands. The original book by H.G. Wells caused a lot of controversy and scandal when it was released, the blurring of lines between humans and animals, the hints of bestiality, cannibalism, etc. Wells himself said his book was “an exercise in youthful blasphemy”.
Juliet often battles her own morbid curiosity about her father’s research even though she knows what he’s doing is wrong and that he, himself, is a madman in the truest sense of the word.
“Edward was strangely quiet, shocked by the horror of it, as I should have been. But as much as I knew I should be repulsed, my curiosity burned so brightly it made my humanity flicker and dim.”
Some of Dr. Moreau’s creatures start to turn, becoming violent as they discover the taste of blood. Juliet, Montgomery, and Edward plot together and plan to make their escape on the last remaining dinghy left on the island, hoping to run into a larger ship. Juliet is encouraged to round up anything of value which can later be sold. A loyal part dog-part bear creature, Balthazar, helps load up water, food, clothing, parasols, anything that will help them survive the journey.
As chaos reigns on the island and time begins to run out, more twists and turns to the story cause surprise and leave the reader with the feeling of, “What? No! No, no, no!” This is a thought-provoking novel, for sure, and full of dark, gloomy, gothic suspense. This does not completely align with the original Wells’ novel, and leaves an opening for future books in the series.
The author continues this story with a second book which pulls from Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and follows with a third book stemming from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.