The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter is an enjoyable read with lots of character, from the plot to the characters themselves. Theodora Goss has written a fantastic piece of literature: a mash-up of different science fiction classics with a twist of fantasy and threaded with mystery.
The story begins with Mary Jekyll, whose mother has recently succumbed to illness. Instead of an inheritance, however, Mary is left to chase a fourteen-year-old mystery as the reward money entices her with a way out of poverty. As she unravels each clue, she encounters Diana Hyde, Beatrice Rappaccini, Catherine Moreau, and Justine Frankenstein; daughters of wayward scientists connected to the mysterious Société des Alchemistes. Together the girls embark into the streets of London: investigating murders, chasing potential suspects, and uncovering the truth about their fathers.
Aside from a bit of an introduction, after chapter one the plot gets right down to business; no dawdling. Its storyline runs at a quick and even pace, which kept me involved and interested throughout the course of the novel. The main characters are sassy and intelligent, with enough individuality to keep you attracted to the story yet maintaining traits that can enable the reader to personally identify with the characters and have a relatable experience.
The book is written as though the girls are writing it themselves. They each have their own dialogue outside of the plot, interacting with prominent voices that bridge the narrative from beginning to end. Together, they comment on the events taking place or reflect on things that have already happened to them (as a way of foreshadowing). While I was able to enjoy this, I can see it being potentially jarring for other readers. It isn’t that these breaks in plot come out of nowhere, but that this narrative style isn’t common and I understand that other readers may not appreciate deviating from the main story. Personally, I found that the external commentary enhanced the flavour of the novel, making it stand out amidst others I’ve read and providing me with a richer experience.
The interactions between the five girls reminded me of how I interact with my closest friends, with each character portraying key parts of their personalities. They all have a slightly sarcastic tone to their narration that my friends and I share with each other, such as when the girls refer to themselves as monsters — to quote page 4, “I have paused to show you Mary staring into the mirror because this is a story about monsters. All stories about monsters contain a scene in which the monster sees himself in a mirror.”
Admittedly, I found a lot of the plot twists predictable, yet all were still enjoyable as the story unravelled itself. All of the loose ends tie up neatly and in a timely manner. They are left dangling long enough to keep you interested and then wrapped up to reveal another mystery without overstaying their welcome and underestimating the intelligence of the reader. I do find that the sections where the girls tell their personal backstories to be a bit lengthy, but at the same time, it makes sense as they are each writing their own part of the novel.
I always have fun engaging in stories that make me research. I love learning new things, so I immediately turn to Google when I am curious or haven’t heard of something that was mentioned. I made good use of it as I was reading this book: for various definitions, nineteenth-century fashion, maps of London and such.
Goss’s novel is heavily structured around real-world classic works of fiction, from the characters to the world they inhabit. The reader doesn’t need to read these stories to understand the plot; I had a basic knowledge of them and still understood all that was happening. In fact, it intrigued me enough to look into them and learn more. It is interesting to see how other works can culture creativity.
Overall, Theodora Goss has provided us with a solid read. The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter was entertaining, witty, and a unique experience compared to other novels I have read in the last few years. It now holds a special place on my shelves, where I can see it and eagerly anticipate reading the sequel.
Michelle A. Bonga
Michelle is an aspiring writer and editor. She is currently in her second year of the Professional Writing program. She hopes she’s doing something right. She finds writing about herself in the third-person to be quite strange.
She is also known as Michelle A. from the student blog, Voices in the Attic, which can also be found here on Spine.