Take a look at Theodora Goss’s new book, The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter. Even the title is a nod to a nineteenth-century classic work everyone’s heard of. In fact, if you start typing it into a search engine, the first thing you’ll see is Robert Louis Stevenson’s masterpiece of horror, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Which totally resonates with this plot! Because the first character we meet is Miss Mary Jekyll, the daughter of Guess-who and his unhappy wife who descended into madness when her husband moved most of his money and his alter ego to Eastern Europe, no forwarding address included.
It’s a dark beginning, which includes Mary attending her mother’s funeral and dismissing all the servants because she can no longer afford to pay them and embarking on a mysterious visit to the lawyer’s office for one more thing that wasn’t included in the will. Or, rather, it would be a dark beginning, except for the excerpts of completely unrelated dialogue that are interjected throughout. These little snippets show that there are seven people who are very comfortable bickering and contradicting one another and who are really invested in the story and the way it’s being told. I think these short interruptions are highly, highly amusing and lend a piquancy to the story line. And I am in favor of any unexpected move by an author to keep a Victorian Gothic spin-off from becoming too grim.
So anyway, there’s Mary at the grim, Gothic lawyer’s office, finding out that there’s reason to believe that her father is not as far away as she has always supposed. Therefore she decides to consult with a detective… and yes, you’ve got it, that detective is none other than Mr. Sherlock Holmes. Which honestly would be a little annoying to me except that there are nods to nineteenth-century novels and stories throughout the book, so Mr. Holmes is, refreshingly, merely one in a crowd.
And this book really is so much fun I don’t want to ruin it, so as a finale I would like to note that there are tons of literary references for us English-major types (including some that I missed; but if you look up some of the names after you finish reading there are a lot of “I see what you did there!” moments to relish) and there is major female empowerment going on in this book. Imagine an enclave of strong women who don’t really fit into society, each with her own unique voice, coming together in common cause to fight a fight worth fighting. Oh, yes. Empowerment all over the place!
Here there be Victorian Gothic monsters:
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Other Stories by Robert Louis Stevenson
Frankenstein or the Modern Prometheus by Mary Shelley
Dracula by Bram Stoker
Selected Tales and Sketches by Nathaniel Hawthorne