Book Review: The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter by Theodora Goss

This is a mash-up of all those wonderful characters and stories with monsters and superhuman detectives in Victorian-era London. So we have our Jekyll and Hyde, Van Helsing, Rappaccini’s Daughter, Dr. Moreau, Sherlock Holmes, and a hint of Jack the Ripper. Still, this time there’s a strong female cast with interesting characters along with intriguing male actors. The story is about Mary Jekyll and how her mother’s death leaves her penniless, and she has to follow his father’s strange history to find out her future. The narration jumps between characters Mary meets (The Athena Club) and with the present action. There are side notes that take us out of the immediate story to the moment the book is written for the wider public. So meta inside the book. Sometimes the meta aspect works. Other times, the snarky commentary on the book or prose feels too forced and cuts the story’s immersion. Mostly it kind of works. 

The book is a slow read, and I think the last hundred pages, give and take, felt somewhat inconsequential even when it revealed the whole back story and why everything had happened. The thing is, I would rather have it woven into the story than narrated (told) to the reader after the fact to clarify “missing information.” The missing information didn’t seem that missing and could have been summed up in a few sentences, especially to those familiar enough with the mash-up background. I felt like a schoolteacher was explaining the story and what was relevant and what wasn’t. Also the story felt a bit on the nose and predictable. Again, it comes to the point of the book being an homage to those books (and one another, I won’t mention here because of spoilers) I listed in the beginning. While I say the homage made the plots somewhat obvious, the actual tribute was done well. What I mean is that it fitted the story to be told, and the characters and setting.

To sum up, the first book of The Extraordinary Adventures of the Athena Club was a fun read despite my complaints. The female cast: Mary (whose growth story this is,) Dianna, Catherine, Beatrice, and Justine, are versatile characters who hold their place in the story. They are caged to their past for now, but it will be interesting to see how they shake that off in the other books or will they be forever hunting the clues of what Société des Alchimistes has done and how their destiny is tied to it. 

Thank you for reading, and have a mysterious day ❤

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