After her parents’ death, Mary Jekyll has no means of income and finds advertised a reward for information leading to the capture of her fathers’ old friend Edward Hyde. She finds an unknown sister, Diana Hyde, and with the help of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, she befriends more women, all of whom were created by scientific experimentation, including Beatrice Rappaccini, Catherin Moreau, and Justine Frankenstein. Amidst a terrible series of murders in White chapel, they discover a secret society of immoral and powerful scientists.
All the protagonists of this book narrate their story together by way of Catherine, and their ongoing of chorus commentary on the unfolding plot is one of my favorite things. They disagree, bicker, and support one another’s perspective, provide insight about the future, and bring some levity into a relatively serious story.
While the setting is Victorian London, the women are all ahead of their time in one way or another. Mary is highly practical, logical, and a natural leader. Diana wears her hair short and dresses like a newsboy because no one asks what she’s doing without a grownup. Catherine refuses to go to church. Beatrice supports Votes for Women and Dress Reform.
Victorian science fiction warned against science without morality in a world of learned aristocratic men. This novel asks who the likely victims were and gives voice to the women of literature who may have been left out of the original stories. In other words, the daughters of gothic literature come together to solve a series of murders. They are refreshingly tolerant and supportive women, if a bit self-deprecating. There’s a strength and spirit to the women of this book, but most of all, it’s charming in it’s pastiche.
Now about that pastiche. I am terribly biased against entertainment that relies on established characters and memorabilia for its success. There is a long history of mashups of science fiction and fantasy out in the world already, and I don’t generally like any of them because I can’t get past the premise. These sorts of stories are fun and accessible, but rarely clever or sophisticated or literary. I am never able to get into this story because at each turn yet another character from literature is thrown into the mix, and the gimmick overtakes the adventure and mystery.
Recommended for fans of modern interpretations (aka fanfiction) of classic horror and science fiction!
“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!”