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Book Review: The Madman’s Daughter by Megan Shepherd

Recommended for fans of: The Infernal Devices, The Night Circus, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

Frankenstein is one of my all-time favourite novels, so as soon as I read the blurb of The Madman’s Daughter, I knew I had to get my hands on a copy.  Megan Shepherd did not disappoint.  From the first few paragraphs, I knew I was in for a hauntingly beautiful and richly gothic adventure.  The Madman’s Daughter follows Juliet, a young woman living alone in Victorian London struggling to make ends meet, who unexpectedly stumbles across an old family friend and soon finds herself travelling halfway across the world to live with her estranged father on a secluded island.  Here, her disgraced father performs grotesque experiments far from the disapproval and scepticism of his colleagues in London.  But they are not alone on the island - a dark creation stalks them from the shadows and is killing off the island’s inhabitants one by one…

The middle section of the book drags slightly - the beautifully eerie atmosphere and pervading sense of “wrongness” which drive the story were weighed down by Juliet’s back-and-forth indecision over her feelings for Montgomery and Edward, which quickly became repetitive.  Another tiny complaint I have is the anglicisation of the Frankenstein story - maybe Victorian London appeals more to teenage readers than nineteenth-century Switzerland, but the new setting and timeframe contributed little to the overall story and it would have been nice to read about central European characters for a change.

I also dislike the religious belief that other species have something missing - a “soul”, which somehow makes humans intrinsically better than less intelligent animals.  Shepherd’s characters are Victorian, so I could understand why they’d cling to this belief, but I was still disappointed by the characters’ (and the author’s?) outdated and backwards understanding of human vs. animal nature.

Nevertheless, The Madman’s Daughter was beautifully written and probably one of my favourite books so far this year.  Shepherd’s prose is excellent; sensual and suspenseful, this is the kind of book to curl up with on a miserable afternoon and continue reading well into the early hours of the next morning.  I definitely recommend it, and I look forward to reading more from this author!

Rating: 4 stars
Review cross-posted to Goodreads

Buy on Amazon: (UK) (US)

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