Review: The Madman’s Daughter by Megan Shepherd

In the darkest places, even love is deadly. 

Sixteen-year-old Juliet Moreau has built a life for herself in London—working as a maid, attending church on Sundays, and trying not to think about the scandal that ruined her life. After all, no one ever proved the rumors about her father’s gruesome experiments. But when she learns he is alive and continuing his work on a remote tropical island, she is determined to find out if the accusations are true. 

Accompanied by her father’s handsome young assistant, Montgomery, and an enigmatic castaway, Edward—both of whom she is deeply drawn to—Juliet travels to the island, only to discover the depths of her father’s madness: He has experimented on animals so that they resemble, speak, and behave as humans. And worse, one of the creatures has turned violent and is killing the island’s inhabitants. Torn between horror and scientific curiosity, Juliet knows she must end her father’s dangerous experiments and escape her jungle prison before it’s too late. Yet as the island falls into chaos, she discovers the extent of her father’s genius—and madness—in her own blood. 

Inspired by H. G. Wells’s classic The Island of Dr. Moreau, The Madman’s Daughter is a dark and breathless Gothic thriller about the secrets we’ll do anything to know and the truths we’ll go to any lengths to protect.

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My goodness, where should I even start when talking about Megan Shepherd’s The Madman’s Daughter… I suppose I could start by saying that I picked it up while reading Ann Radcliffe’s The Italian, which was published in 1797 and is considered one of the very first Gothic thrillers. Reading these two novels while simultaneously researching the Gothic novel as a genre gave me an interesting vantage point from which to view The Madman’s Daughter as a Gothic novel and, I think, in the end, it may have deepened my love for Shepherd’s debut (and for The Italian, which was boring me to tears at the time)!

The setting and atmosphere of a Gothic novel is of utmost importance. In fact, the setting is so important it must act as a character itself. For me, the island where Juliet’s father has been secretly living and conducting his “research” more than fulfills this requirement. From the moment Juliet learns of the island (and meets the islander accompanying Montgomery, her father’s assistant), the reader knows this isn’t going to be an island with gorgeous white-sand beaches and hammocks casually strung between trees. While the island’s history isn’t explored in extreme depth, the reader knows that it is no stranger to misfortune and, perhaps, even sinister death. Plus, it’s the home of a mad scientist who was run out of London after performing horrid experiments on living subjects… it’s hard to imagine such a man living in a bright, sunshine-y place.

The Madman’s Daughter might remind readers of Frankenstein as it deals with themes of science versus nature, experimentation for the purpose of creation and life, the meaning of humanity and life, and features a scientist that believes he is doing something good, but whose opinion may be a tad (or a lot) biased. One of the things that I absolutely loved about this novel was how often it made me question: is this wrong? Some of the experimentation itself is wrong, but, after Juliet learns what her father is doing, essentially merging and manipulating different parts of animals to create humanoid creatures, she refers to them as monsters. While I do see how such creatures could be viewed as monstrous, I also grew to care deeply about many of them as the novel progressed. At more than one point, I was actually moved to tears as these creatures suffered. I get a little bit weepy just thinking about it now, weeks after reading. 

As far as Juliet’s father is concerned, I have very strong negative feelings. Though, as a product of the 21st century, I’m not sure that I see his scientific mind and quest for innovation as mad, I definitely still see him as a madman on many other levels. He may have begun as a scientist searching for truth and knowledge, but, by the time the reader meets him, he’s off-his-rocker-crazy. The power has gone to his head and, for someone who is obsessed with the secret of creating life, he cares very little about preserving life. Still, after some secrets from Juliet’s past are revealed, I couldn’t help but take a longer look at Dr. Moreau and consider what he might have been like before.

The Madman’s Daughter also incorporates some very pro-feminist vibes as Juliet fights against a very anti-women world, culture, and father. She strong, determined, and courageous despite nearly everything being stacked against her. She rebels against her father who sees her primarily as something to use and manipulate and secondly as a burden to marry off. She doesn’t take no for an answer when Montgomery tries to prevent her from going to the island nor does she accept the simple answers she’s given when she knows there’s much more to be learned. I can’t imagine any reader calling Juliet Moreau weak.

And, to round out an already fantastic plot, there’s more than enough romance to satisfy readers who like their heroine’s distracted by a guy while fighting their mad father and considering philosophical questions about humanity. In fact, there’s a rather intense love triangle featuring two very unique men… but following this tangent would require multiple paragraphs and more than a few spoilers.

I could go on and on about The Madman’s Daughter, but I’d say it’s in your best interest to read this fantastic novel yourself. 

Balzer + Bray (HarperTeen), January 2013, Hardcover, ISBN: 9780062128027, 432 pages.

Don’t forget: You can win a copy of THE MADMAN’S DAUGHTER by joining the 2013 Feminist Reads Challenge here!
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3 thoughts on “Review: The Madman’s Daughter by Megan Shepherd

  1. I've seen this book everywhere lately, and they're all great reviews! I really want to read it. I haven't read many books that can be considered gothic, so it would be cool to expand my reading horizons. It sounds like the author describes the setting fantastically, and that's always great.

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