The Extraordinary Gentlewomen (Reposted)
Created by ggrihn on 8/27/2017 7:18:29 PM

The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter, by Theodora Goss

Reviewed by Gregory G.H. Rihn, Steampunk Chronicle Literary Editor

In Robert Louis Stevenson’s famous story, The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde, Doctor Henry Jekyll is portrayed as a bachelor. But, what if he had actually been married, and had had a Alchemist's daughter before beginning his ill-fated experiments? And, what if “Edward Hyde,” a notorious womanizer, had also begotten a daughter before his “disappearance”?

This is the premise that begins The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter, by Theodora Goss. When Mary Jeykll’s mother dies, she discovers that she has for years been paying money to a charitable institution for the “maintenance of Hyde.” Shocked that her mother would be contributing toward the welfare of the man she blames for her father’s death, she engages Sherlock Holmes, in hopes he will be able to bring Edward Hyde, still a wanted man, to justice. Instead, she finds Hyde’s daughter, the young hellion Diana, now in need of a home.

Mary’s quest to find out why her mother felt responsible for Hyde’s daughter, and to find Hyde, embroils her in Holmes’ investigation of the Ripper Murders, and causes her path to cross with three other abandoned or unwanted “daughters” of scientists. These are Beatrice Rappaccini, victim of her father’s experiments with poisons (from the story “Rappaccini’s Daughter,” by Nathaniel Hawthorne); Catherine Moreau, the “panther woman” from H.G. Wells’ The Island of Dr. Moreau; and Justine Frankenstein, the “Bride of Frankenstein.” Ms. Goss cleverly braids the various stories together, including presenting a nicely reasoned alternative story as to why Justine exists (in Mary Shelley’s original story, Victor Frankenstein destroyed the “bride” before it was completed).

In the course of assisting Holmes, Mary learns that her father was a member of the mysterious “League of Alchemists,” as were Rappaccini and Moreau—and, so it appears, is a certain Dr. Van Helsing--. She also discovers a certain unsettling tendency among the members to have experimented upon their female offspring. Solving the Ripper case bids fair to expose further troubling connections to her own life and to the League.

This novel creates an entertaining milieu in which the “forgotten women” of classic horror novels take center stage. It is clear there will be a sequel in the offing, and I look forward to eventually reading it.

The Strange Case of the Alchemist's Daughter

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