The Madman’s Daughter by Megan Shepherd (2013)
Suggested age range: 14 and up
(Balzer + Bray, 420 pages)
Rating: 5/5 stars
Source: Personal Copy
The Book: Ever heard of the island of Dr. Moreau? If you have, you may recognize some allusions to H.G. Wells’ plot in Shepherd’s fantastic gothic YA novel, The Madman’s Daughter. The book opens with sixteen year-old, Juliet Moreau, who is barely making ends meet cleaning a laboratory in London. Her mother is dead and her father abandoned the family years earlier, after terrible accusations were made against him about his research. Juliet assumes her father is dead. Otherwise, why would he have left her to the life of poverty and hardship she is enduring?
Of course, Juliet discovers her father is very much alive, and sets out with his assistant, the handsome Montgomery to the island where Dr. Moreau is living. Juliet has known Montgomery since she was a child, so there is history in their friendship. However, something more significant seems to developing between them. What is Montgomery’s role in her father’s strange life on the island? Why are they transporting so many animals there? And who are the strange islanders? These and more questions are uncovered within Shepherd’s exciting story.
Expect to encounter surprises, plot twists, terror, and romance on the pages of this novel. Also, expect a complex heroine who makes a discovery about herself that readers may or may not be prepared for.
Spirituality in The Madman’s Daughter: Humans possess a need to know where we came from. Sometimes this relates to seeking revelation about our parents. Juliet Moreau is on this journey as she seeks to uncover who her father really is. By doing so, she discovers more about herself, but she struggles with the idea that, in some ways, she might be like her father. Or is she? Her spirituality is revealed on the island through her being vocal about how she thinks animals should be treated. Though she has to make some violent decisions in the story, these decisions are actually fueled by a kindness deep inside her.
The book assuredly brings up discussion about our responsibilities as humans towards animals. How should we treat animals? Can we justify causing them pain for human advancement? Are we in their territory or are they in ours? Is it right for humans to play God? If we have the power, should we seek to create life?
In relation to connections with other people, the story raises these questions: How do we treat those who appear to be different from ourselves? What do we owe our own flesh and blood? Should we stand by them in every situation?
These are just some of the issues that surface in light of a spiritual reading of the story.
Who Should Read This Book: Young adults (and adults) who enjoy historical fiction with a gothic twist would enjoy this fast-paced story. This book is seriously good because it features a strong heroine, includes allusions to H.G. Wells’ science fiction work, and contains a good balance of action and character development. The narrative includes romance and some violence, but it isn’t excessive.
Note: If you are squeamish, be careful about the passages in the doctor’s laboratory. I have to admit: there were a few parts I had to skip over. However, the book is well worth the read!
The Final Word: I gave this book five stars due to its exciting plot structure, character development, and themes; additionally, I love books set in the Victorian period. The themes in this story are excellent for discussing some profound issues, as mentioned earlier. I strongly encourage you to read this novel—the sequel is out at the end of January, and I have been recommending the story to every reader I talk to. I am definitely looking forward to all that Megan Shepherd, a native of North Carolina, is going to write. Having just moved from North Carolina back to California, I am sorry I did not know about her earlier! Very excited about the sequel, Her Dark Curiousity, to be published on January 28th, 2014!