H.G. Wells’ tale of the demented genius, Dr. Moreau, has inspired many creators to expand on the story of the man who yearned to create new forms of life. Megan Shepherd’s debut novel, The Madman’s Daughter, pushes further by not simply analyzing Moreau’s psyche but translating it through the eyes of a descendent. Sixteen-year-old Juliet Moreau can barely remember her father; he fled London six years earlier upon charges of illegal vivisection, destroying her mother and, ultimately, leading to Juliet’s sinking into abject poverty. The young woman fears that her father’s purported madness runs through her veins, so when she finds evidence he may still be alive, she grasps at the flimsy straws. Her father isn’t the only person from Juliet’s past that is still alive, though, and her journey to find her father on a mysterious, hidden island reveals things about all of them no one wanted to explore.
Through Juliet author Megan Shepherd does an excellent job of analyzing the ethics of science and how far is too far in the name of discovery. Her Dr. Moreau teeters between being a cold, yet engaged, father and a creature void of any empathy when it comes to his scientific experiments. Montgomery and Edward, both characters from the H.G. Wells story, take new life in The Madman’s Daughter, as well. While they fall into the pattern of love interest for Juliet, the young men represent two different things for the young woman. Montgomery is the memory of her warm, loving past, but he has also been complicit with her father’s horrific surgeries and experiments on the island. Edward holds the potential of a future away from the hurt of the past, but will his own secrets be too great to overcome?
While I was intrigued by Shepherd’s re-imagining of The Island of Dr. Moreau, at times, Juliet was an unreliable and rather unlikeable narrator. While she tried to convince herself that her father was innocent of the accusations of vivisection, she also felt that some of the rage and darkness in herself could be because madness ran through her veins. When she showed some of the coldness of Dr. Moreau, I flinched away from her and found it difficult to sympathize with her situation. I also found it a little unbelievable that two young men would be attracted to her so easily, although it makes more sense since there are few women on the island. By the end of the story, I sympathized with Juliet more fully, but it was still a little uncomfortable to be in her skin; however, given the portrayal of Dr. Moreau and slight hint at genetics, Shepherd may have intended her character to both appeal and repel readers. As Juliet gets answers to her many questions, I also warmed towards her; some things in the past are better left forgotten or unknown.
Moreau’s experiments in transforming animals into humanoid creatures sickened me thoroughly. They took animal testing to a horrifically demented level that fit the source material and surpassed it in its dementedness. I knew a little about vivisection from science classes in high school and college, and I abhorred the practice in theory. The Madman’s Daughter showed me fictionally how heartless it could truly be, then compounded upon it with the patching together of various animals to make a whole human-like being.
The ending tied the entire twisted, dark tale together for me. Despite the love triangle between Juliet, Montgomery, and Edward, this is not a romance. It’s an examination of what makes humanity, our responsibility for our scientific inquiries, and whether some knowledge has too high a price tag. Ultimately, the only one who can be truly free of Dr. Moreau’s demonic island is Juliet, because she is the only one who has not lost part of herself to its secrets.
The Madman’s Daughter is not a light read; it delves into some disturbing subject matter and doesn’t shy away from detailed descriptions. While it is billed as a YA novel, I recommend this for teens at least fifteen or sixteen and older.
4 Meticulously Created Animal-Humans out of 5