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

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Pages: 406

Series: The Extraordinary Adventures of the Athena Club, Book 1

Genres: Fantasy; Mystery; Historical Fiction; Young Adult; SciFi; Horror; Retellings

Publication date: June 20, 2017

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Mary Jekyll, alone and penniless following her parents’ death, is curious about her father’s mysterious past. One clue in particular points towards Edward Hyde, her father’s former assistant and a murderer, being nearby. Knowing about a reward for information leading towards his capture, Mary knows this reward would solve all of her immediate financial woes.

When the hunt heads her to Hyde’s daughter, Diana, she finds a feral child left to be raised by nuns. Assisted by Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, Mary continues her search for Hyde and the truth about her father’s life. She soon befriends more woman, all of whom have been created through terrifying experimentation: Beatrice Rappaccini, Catherin Moreau, and Justine Frankenstein.

Their investigations lead them to the discovery of a secret society of immoral and power crazed scientists, causing the horrors of their pasts to return. Now it’s up to these “monsters” to triumph over the monstrous.

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Diana: Why do women have to wear such rotten clothes? I mean, you’ve got the chemise, and then the corset and then the corset cover. And that’s before you’ve even put on the shirt waist. What’s the point?

Beatrice: Clothing is one means of enforcing women’s social and political subordination. That is why we must support rational dress.

Catherin: Are you seriously going to have an argument about this in the middle of my book?

Beatrice: OUR book. As you keep reminding us. And I know you agree with me, Catherin.

Chapter Eleven

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I went into this read not knowing much of anything about it. Truth be told, I hadn’t even read the synopsis before I picked the read up. I’d heard a lot of BookTubers talk about the book recently, and many of them that I tend to have the same general taste in books have recommended it. On top of that, the cover is gorgeous and I absolutely love fantastical retellings of classic novels. So, naturally, I had to pick it up.

And I’m so glad that I did. I fell in love with this story almost instantly. The way that this story is told is unconventional, but made it even more enjoyable for me. As well, if you have the opportunity to listen to the AudioBook version I would highly recommend it. Kate Reading did a phenomenal job narrating this story and making it feel alive. Each character is distinct – both in tone and voice – and makes it truly feel like a group of friends talking over each other. It was perfect.

Goss herself did a phenomenal job at making this story feel real. I could picture the scene’s in my mind’s eye perfectly. I could see Mary’s calm anger or disappointment as it was described. I could visualize Diana’s rowdy behaviour and her scampering over the rooftops. Justine’s gentleness was clear as day, her unwillingness to be the monster she thought herself.

The only thing I didn’t enjoy about this story is the fact that it ended. Sure I’m lucky enough that I can jump straight into the second story if I chose to – and believe me, I plan on picking the next story up state! – but still. This mystery was thrilling and I loved every second of it. I loved the clues slowly making their way known. Even having previously read all of the classic stories that are referenced in this one, each character felt new to me. Each story felt unique and new. Beloved characters took a new twist and I loved every new characteristic that Goss gave them.

If you’re looking for a fun and thrilling YA fantasy story, I would highly recommend this one. You don’t have to have read the classic stories – like Jekyll and Hyde, Frankenstein, Sherlock Holmes, etc – in order to enjoy this story. While I adored being able to compare and contrast this “retelling” with the classic tales, it’s a fantastic read all on its own without needing to compare it to the source material. You can certainly believe that I’ll be reading the next story – and posting about it – soon.

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*Spoilers ahead*

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No wonder men did not want women to wear bloomers. What could women accomplish if they did not have to continually mind their skirts, keep them from dragging in the mud or getting trampled on the steps of an Omnibus? If they had pockets! With pockets, women could conquer the world!

Chapter Eleven

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Honestly, that quote remains true to this day. Yes women might not have to wear as many layers to be socially acceptable and yes we might be able to wear pants now without getting weird looks. But pockets? When are we going to be granted pockets in more of our clothes? No more fake pockets that are there to look like they exist but not actually be pockets because that would ruin the silhouette. Or those stupid tiny pockets that don’t really count because they’re so tiny that you could possibly keep change in it but nothing useful like your phone our your wallet. Not every female wants to carry around a purse because we can’t find nice clothes that also have pockets.

If you compliment a female on her dress and it’s got pockets in it, watch. Her answer will be “Thanks, it has pockets!” (9 times out of 10 at least). So yes, this is a hill I will die on: Over a century later and we still don’t have the pockets we deserve!

Ahem. Now onto my review of this book, and not the inequality of pockets:

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Mary is one of my favourite protagonists that I’ve read about in a long time. Heck, all of the girls in the Athena Club are pretty badass.

Mary seems to be a natural leader, fearless to the point of recklessness, but determined to see anything through to the end. And boy is she smart! She might not have been her father’s apprentice since he “died” when she was but a girl, but she could have certainly been if Hyde hadn’t taken over. Heck, she’d be a fantastic rival to Sherlock if given the chance. He might not want a second assistant like Watson, but she would do a fantastic job at deducing the clues around her given the correct training. Even before meeting Sherlock and seeing how he does his work Mary was able to sus out clues that most people wouldn’t have noticed. I can’t wait to see how much improvement Mary makes throughout the series in regards to clues. How good is her eye going to become?

And then we have Diana. Who knows what happened to her genetics, being the daughter of Hyde? All I know is that I adore her carefree attitude and her unwillingness to put up with other’s BS. She knows who she is and she’s not going to change for anyone – not even to fit into society or to please her newly found sister. She’s as agile as a monkey and certainly knows how to keep everyone on their toes.

When we’re introduced to Beatrice, it’s clear that she’s unhappy with her situation. Who wouldn’t be miserable knowing that they’re poisonous to everyone around them? Sure her father might have brainwashed her into thinking that her being poisonous was an asset, but as soon as she met other people she learned that maybe being poisonous wasn’t the best thing ever. Her poisonousness might not have stopped her from loving, but it certainly stopped her love from living. And her poisonousness might have been used against her, but it doesn’t stop her from being a kind and caring person. He doesn’t want to hurt the people she cares about, she just can’t change her nature. I look forward to seeing Beatrice learn how to use her poisonous nature to her benefit in the future.

Plus, I hope that she’s able to find a new love. Someone that won’t die in an unfortunate accident. Who knows, Watson seems to be giving her some extra attention….

Catherin might have started her life off as a Puma, but I certainly hope the transformation makes it possible for her to live a long and happy human lifespan. She might consider herself to be a solitary creature, but I think we all know that this badass is quite content living with her found family – her sisters of the Athena Club. I’m sure she still has a puma’s temper and I would hate to be on her bad side, but I absolutely adore watching her protect the ones she loves. She might deny that she loves them, but it’s clear that she does. Even if they’ve only know each other a short time so far.

Out of all of the girls, my heart hurts the most for Justine. While it’s clear that in this world Mary Shelly got a lot of the facts wrong – probably on purpose, but wrong nonetheless – my heart breaks for her. Being wrongfully convicted of a murder that Adam – Frankenstein’s monster – committed and then hanged only to get brought back to life – or unlife – because Adam threatened everyone that Victor loved if he didn’t is an awful way to… live. I can’t imagine having to start your life over only to have your “father” killed in front of you and then basically raped for months and almost killed because you won’t say that you love your rapist was an easy start of her life.

However, that didn’t stop her from being a gentle being. Even killing the pig creature in order to save the lives of her friends was hard for her. She might think of herself as a giant, and she might think of herself as a monster, but she’s one of the sweetest creatures ever. Stronger than any man she might be, but she wouldn’t hurt a fly if she could help it.

Alice might want to be “just a maid”, but she’s certainly part of the girls. For someone who doesn’t want to join in on the adventures, it’s clear that she could hold her own against Adam and Hyde and their crew. She might just want a calm and quite life taking care of the house, but you can’t deny that she’s one of the girls. She helped save Catherin by letting herself get caught and wasn’t afraid to stand up to the creepy man that is Hyde. Besides, surviving the kind of thing that the girls went through is bound to tie you together.

Last but certainly not least, we have Mrs. Poole. She might “just” be the housekeeper, but she’s more of a mother figure than Mary probably ever knew. Mary relies on Mrs. Poole more than even she realizes. I think that through this adventure she’s finally started to see how much Mrs. Poole truly does for her. Not that she didn’t know that Mrs. Poole did a lot for her before, but she’s truly starting to appreciate everything that she does. She’d starve and be out of house and home if it wasn’t for Mrs. Poole. She might not join the younger ladies on their adventures, but she’s an invaluable member of the club regardless.

While I could easily go into the specifics of this story, I would highly recommend reading this story by yourself. Yes this is the spoiler section of the review, but I still find myself reluctant to give away the twists and turns of this story. There are a couple of things that I really want to talk about, but if you’re interested in reading this story for yourself, I highly recommend stopping here and picking the story up. You can always come back later and read the very few things that I plan on talking about below, but this is a great non-spoiler spoiler section and place to stop.

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Okay, now the few things that I wanted to gush about:

I can’t imagine how terrifying these animal/human creatures must have been. Sure Catherin is reasonable enough to want to help the girls, but that’s a her thing and not an animalistic trait. It must have been excruciating to be transformed from an animal into a human creature, to be changed at the most fundamental levels. Yet it almost seems as if Catherin was lucky, as far as made humans go. The animals from the menagerie seemed to have only been changed at the most fundamental level. I’m pretty sure I would be terrified to come across a wolfman or a chimpman on the street. Catherin can at least pass for human, but I’m sure these creatures could not. They might have followed the commands they were given, but I’m not sure that they were fully transformed. It didn’t seem like they could formulate their own thoughts or opinions, to make their own decisions. Not that I think Adam wanted them to be able to do these things, but still.

And Hyde might be a murderer, he might have abandoned both of his daughters, but it’s clear that Diana still loves him. Even if she hadn’t technically met him before the whole “White Chapel Murders” thing… She gave him the hat pin because she didn’t want him to be hanged. And I think that was sweet of her. He might not be the best father in the world, and she might not have met him before, but it’s clear that she loves him. I’m sure she can’t wait to question him when they meet in the future – because I’m sure that they’ll meet each other again.

Finally, I can’t wait to see where the story goes next. Mary has received a letter from Lucinda Van Helsing, another daughter of the Alchemist Society, and it’s clear that they Athena Club is on the case. They’ve got to save her from her father’s crazy experiments, to use her knowledge to try and stop the SA from experimenting even more on their daughters. I look forward to reading Lucinda’s story, to see how she ends up joining the Athena Club. Oh, and seeing Mary surpass Sherlock’s deductive skills.

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