In the darkest places, even love is deadly.
Sixteen-year-old Juliet Moreau has built a life for herself in London—working as a maid, attending church on Sundays, and trying not to think about the scandal that ruined her life. After all, no one ever proved the rumors about her father's gruesome experiments. But when she learns he is alive and continuing his work on a remote tropical island, she is determined to find out if the accusations are true.
Accompanied by her father's handsome young assistant, Montgomery, and an enigmatic castaway, Edward—both of whom she is deeply drawn to—Juliet travels to the island, only to discover the depths of her father's madness: He has experimented on animals so that they resemble, speak, and behave as humans. And worse, one of the creatures has turned violent and is killing the island's inhabitants. Torn between horror and scientific curiosity, Juliet knows she must end her father's dangerous experiments and escape her jungle prison before it's too late. Yet as the island falls into chaos, she discovers the extent of her father's genius—and madness—in her own blood.
I took a Gothic lit class in my early years of University, and needless to say I loved it. It was a genre of book I hadn't read much of, and didn't really understand well enough to realize what it was exactly, but once I'd started, well, I was sold. There is nothing that excites me more than when YA and MG reads delve into classic genres, introducing whole new generations to the love of them. Kenneth Oppel's Victor Frankenstein series was one of the first true gothic YA reads I'd come across, and The Madman's Daughter is an awesome addition to the category. They even have similarly evocative covers, don't you think?
What I truly enjoyed, more than anything else about Shepherds debut, was how unrelentingly dark it was. There are love interests, and I suppose you could even go so far as to say there is a love triangle, but it's so very dark and creepy that it's not really what you would expect for a YA. Much like the Victor Frankenstein books, you're not really rooting for it to work out, and it kind of gives you the willies more than pulls on any heartstrings.
The mystery of the novel, wether or not you've read Dr. Moreau previously, is also incredibly creepy. Obviously it's clear right from the get go that Dr. Moreau has created an island of monsters, and yet Shepherd has managed to keep the reveals surprising and horrifying throughout with her own twists on the story. The nuances of his madness, the hints of Julie's similarities to her father, and Julie's slip down the social ladder and how that's changed her all lend themselves to Shepherds atmosphere of unease, but without a doubt everything is ratcheted up several notches by the attempts at normalcy. The way Montgomery has mimicked Julie's childhood home and has even gone so far as to buy a bunch of their stuff at auction, the way Julie's father insists on formal dinners and piano performances, all of it sitting on the thin veneer of the bizarre makes for some of the most truly gothic horror moments of the story.
If I had even a moment of doubt that I loved this story (I didn't, but let's just say for arguments sake) it was blown away by the ending. Now it wasn't till after I finished the story that I looked it up and realized it was part one of a trilogy, so my original reaction was a wide eyed "wow, that was, ah, stark", and I wasn't disappointed, just amazed someone had the balls to end a book in such a open and non positive way. I loved it. Of course then I realized it was open because it was a trilogy, and at first I was a bit disappointed because it made it much less stark that there was more story to come, but after stewing over it a bit, I realized I had no idea where Shepherd was going with this stark ending and I was seriously intrigued. So really, this story was unsettling, down right creepy but unendingly intriguing, and I can't say there is much higher praise I can give it, especially since the unsettling and creepy parts are both so unusual in YA.
I am very much looking forward to what Shepherd has up her sleeve for part two. Poor Julie, it can't be good.
The Madman's Daughter, by Megan Shepherd
Published by Balzer and Bray, January 29th, 2013