Apr 12 2018

The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter (The Extraordinary Adventures of the Athena Club Book 1) by Theodora Goss

Delightful novel, and well worth the rush read.

This is the first in the chronicles of the Athena Club, a group of women brought together by the fact that they are all monsters. Or, to be more precise, the daughters/offspring/creation of mad scientists (as well as the doughty Mrs Poole and the plucky Alice. Let’s not be classist and forget the servants, after all.) Their leader is Mary Jekyll, who initially consults with Sherlock Holmes and John Watson after the death of her mother leaves her impoverished. She hopes that some of the documents her mother has left her might help in pursuing the murderer Edward Hyde, whom she remembers from when she was a young girl. There was, she believes, a cash reward for information leading to his apprehension, money she desperately needs to keep body and soul together. Her investigations lead her first to the incorrigible Diana Hyde, the 14 year-old daughter of said murderer, who insists that the two are sisters, a claim Mary scarcely wants to believe. But as they encounter (and essentially gather) more women to their monstrous regiment, Mary discovers that there are more things in heaven and earth than she’d ever dreamt possible.

The Strange Case Of The Alchemist’s Daughter is a wonderfully imaginative retelling of the many, many mad scientist fables of early science fiction, inspired by Theodora Goss’ curiosity as to why so many of these scientists chose to destroy their female creations while letting the males run amuck. It’s charmingly written with frequent interjections from each member. Ms Goss does an excellent job of keeping each voice distinctive, even as she stays true to the tones, if not necessarily the details, of the source materials.

My one teeny tiny critique is that life was actually way, way worse for the Victorian poor than Ms Goss described. Every time I read of a prostitute with decent lodgings or sitting comfortably by a pub fire with barley water, I was thrown out of the otherwise quite immersive world-building. Doss houses and a mug of cheap gin were more the order of the day. But that’s a small criticism of an otherwise very entertaining novel. I’m very much looking forward to reading of what the Athena Club will do next, tho boo-urns, I have to wait till July for the next book.

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