Her Dark Curiosity: Review

November 19, 2014 2014, 4.5 star books, Layla, megan shepherd, sci fi or futuristic, victorian 22 ★★★★½

Her Dark Curiosity: ReviewHer Dark Curiosity by Megan Shepherd
Series: The Madman's Daughter #2
Published by Balzer & Bray, Harper Collins on January 28, 2014
Genres: gothic, historical, science fiction
Pages: 420 pages
Format: Hardcover
Source: Borrowed
AmazonIndieboundBarnes & NobleGoodreads

Inspired by The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, this tantalizing sequel to Megan Shepherd's gothic suspense novel The Madman's Daughter explores the hidden natures of those we love and how far we'll go to save them from themselves. Perfect for fans of Libba Bray.

Back in London after her trip to Dr. Moreau's horrific island, Juliet is rebuilding the life she once knew and trying to forget her father's legacy. But soon it's clear that someone—or something—hasn't forgotten her, as people close to Juliet start falling victim to a murderer who leaves a macabre calling card of three clawlike slashes. Has one of her father's creations also escaped the island?

As Juliet strives to stop a killer while searching for a serum to cure her own worsening illness, she finds herself once more in a world of scandal and danger. Her heart torn in two, her past bubbling to the surface, and her life threatened by an obsessive killer—Juliet will be lucky to escape alive.

Ah, I am seriously so interested and excited by this book.

For folks who are unfamiliar with The Madman’s Daughter series by Megan Shepherd, the basic premise is as follows: what if Dr. Moreau (island, animal-human hybrids, H.G. Wells) had a daughter with the same scientific bent? The first book (Wendy has a positive review of that book here; Tonya liked it less) follows Juliet Moreau from London – where she’s been living and working, cleaning university laboratories and the like after her father disappeared following a scandal that besmirched their family name – to the fabled island her father’s currently set up shop on. Juliet’s anxious and excited about reuniting with her father, but her feelings become more troubled when she discovers that the rumors are true: not only is her father a vivisectionist, but he is crafting human beings from the parts of different animals. (Whom he names after characters from Shakespeare, because the intertextuality of this book is awesome.)

These are the interesting topics from the first novel: tell me more about these animal-human hybrids and what they’re into, man! & please describe in detail Juliet’s inner turmoil and poorly suppressed interest in her father’s science! Unfortunately, there is also a far less interesting love triangle featuring a former family servant turned Moreau lab assistant (Montgomery) and a dark, handsome stranger (Edward). Consequently, I was worried that this love triangle would overwhelm the second book – and it does, a little – but mostly it is awesome. Juliet’s doing science and fighting her urges to killinate things and it is just the best. I cackled evilly so many times while reading this book, you all.

So, Her Dark Curiosity picks up after Juliet’s returned to London, leaving the island and everything she loves behind View Spoiler » and things are looking up for her: she’s been adopted by a former colleague of her father’s, she’s back with her best friend, Lucy, and although she’s haunted by What She Did on the island and the men she left behind, her biggest problem is that her super rare illness – a glycogen deficiency caused by View Spoiler » – is getting worse.

But Juliet’s busy looking for a cure in her super secret lab (where she also creates flower hybrids, because they can’t turn against you) and this is all well and good until someone (the Wolf of Whitehall!) starts murdering everyone who’s ever wronged Juliet. So, Juliet knows that one of her father’s creations has escaped the island, and she’s pretty sure she knows who it is. Juliet is thus faced with a bunch of big questions: what is her responsibility to her father’s creation when she finds him, to cure or kill? is he human? does his death matter more, or less, or differently if he’s not human? what is Juliet’s relationship to the science that created him? does the life of one person matter when weighed against the safety of a given community? who is the monster and who is the man (sing the bells of Notre Dame)?

It’s probably abundantly clear at this point that one of the major questions that sparks my interest in a book is does it ask any combination of the following: what does it mean to be human, or embodied, or a person, and what counts and what doesn’t? & augh, this book delivers. Juliet’s forced to deal with these questions on both a personal and a social level.

One of the things I really liked about the book was that it doesn’t shy away from making Juliet face difficult truths about herself. Like her father, Juliet has the capacity for obsessive scientific curiosity coupled with a growing disdain for social convention. In one of the opening scenes of the first book, The Madman’s Daughter, Juliet stumbles upon some university students vivisecting a bunny. While everyone else is helpless to act, Juliet grabs an ax and chops its head off. In terms of establishing character, this moment is pretty decisive.

In Her Dark Curiosity, Juliet’s experimentation leads her to some potentially dark places; there is this wonderful scene when she realizes that the ingredients she’s using aren’t fresh enough (fresh animal organs would be better) and then her gaze falls upon her beloved dog, and before she knows it, she’s dissecting him in her mind. And she is deeply horrified at herself but also super curious. Juliet initially attributes these darker inclinations to her illness, but in her pursuit of a cure, she’s forced to question whether this curiosity is a symptom of her illness or a fundamental part of who she really isHer Dark Curiosity is based on Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde; it’s worth noting that while there’s a textual Dr. Jekyll / Mr. Hyde, make no mistake, this is actually Juliet’s story. (Especially given where the third book seems ready to take us! No spoilers, but I’m excited for Shepherd’s continued journey through 19th century British literature.)

While I loved this book (and I want to be very clear about this: I would happily re-read and/or teach it, and I don’t re-read books very often these days), there are a few moments in the book that gave me pause. These are mostly centered on the love triangle and are super spoilery, so look under the cut with caution. View Spoiler »

So. I was fascinated by this book: I love how Shepherd riffs on the 19th-century canon, I love all the literary references, I love Juliet (lady scientist leads for the win), and I love the questions that the novel thinks through. Go read this if you love Victorian fiction and aren’t particularly squeamish.

For folks who’ve read this or the first novel, The Madman’s Daughter – what’d you think?

layla signature teal





22 Responses to “Her Dark Curiosity: Review”

    • Layla

      Haha, it’s cool! I had the kind of opposite reaction – I felt ok (mostly) about the first but LOVED this one. It’ll be interesting to see how we both feel with regards to book #3 (which comes out in a month, aww yiss). What didn’t work for you in this one? No judgment – I can totes see how it wouldn’t! – but I’m curious about what works for readers and what doesn’t.

      Layla recently posted…Mortal Heart: review + giveaway

      • Mel@thedailyprophecy

        The love-triangle was mainly the thing where this book went wrong for me. There was so much focus on her struggle and while I liked Edward and the tension he gives to the story, he’s no love-interest in my opinion. And the whole scene between them when he is covered in blood, I really couldn’t understand that.. Montgomery has no personality, so I don’t care for him either.

        ”And there was Edward, who knew my secrets and didn’t judge me for them, desperate to fill that void in my life.” *snort*

        I also didn’t like how that turned Juliet into a whiner with no spine. I quite liked her in The madman’s daughter, but she really annoyed me here. So. There, haha.
        Mel@thedailyprophecy recently posted…Fairytale News 44. How blogging changed my life.

    • Layla

      You should go read it! It’s unsettling, but in a good way. And it doesn’t shy away from weirdness or gruesomeness at all (a thing that I like quite a bit in a book).

      See, I solved your conflict for you! ;) (Or not. :) If you read it, let me know how you like it, if you like it, if you hate it, or if you think it’s just total crazytown.)
      Layla recently posted…Mortal Heart: review + giveaway

    • Layla

      Read it! There is many a literary reference for you to catch and think about. You might like it! (I love that kind of thing. There’s so much pleasure to be had in thinking about how these books are in conversation with one another.)
      Layla recently posted…Mortal Heart: review + giveaway

  1. Pili

    I read the Madman’s Daughter and I was quite in two minds about it. One, I loved the creepiness of the island, the creepiness of the Dr & Juliet’s father and the experiments and the wondering and the mysteries and the ethical questions asked. BUT the damned love triangle buggered me to NO BLOODY END!

    So I am quite torn about this one, because I’m all for learning more about Juliet and her darkness and temptations and figuring out who she is and what are her limits, but I’m afraid the bloody love triangle will get once again in the way of my enjoyment of the book! *sigh*

    Fantastic review Layla!!
    Pili recently posted…Waiting On Wednesday #69!!

    • Layla

      Thanks, Pili!

      THE LOVE TRIANGLE IS SO AWFUL in the first book. There’s really no reason for her to like either of them; they’re both equally complicit / equally boring (to me), and neither is a decent choice. The sequel focuses less on the love triangle, I think – she’s pretty clearly not going to choose Edward, as per the end of the first book – but still features some romance, which I couldn’t care less about.


      There is still much creepiness to be had and ethical questions to be asked and answered! If you go into it knowing that the love triangle is dumb, maybe you’ll like the second book ok. I’m excited about the third book; I hope all of Juliet’s love interests die and she is FOREVER ALONE. Yay!
      Layla recently posted…Mortal Heart: review + giveaway

  2. Nikki

    I read Madman’s Daughter before I realized that the trilogy wasn’t finished and nearly cried out of frustration at the end of the book, I wanted to know what happened so badly! I must admit, I totally skimmed over your review (minus how many stars you gave it, which is exciting) because I can’t handle the possibility of any even minor spoilers. As soon as A Cold Legacy comes out next year I am planning on voraciously devouring all three. I absolutely LOVED Madman’s Daughter. It was such a rich and dark story and The Island of Dr. Moreau has always been a favorite of mine so it was quite enjoyable.

    • Layla

      Ooh, if you liked The Madman’s Daughter for those reasons, I think you’ll really enjoy Her Dark Curiosity. I think it’s just as dark – if not more? – than the first book, and I thought the urbans setting worked really well for this one, too. So hopefully you’ll like it as well!

      It’s okay that you skimmed over the review – spoilers are the worst! & you don’t have long to wait – A Cold Legacy comes out at the end of January. Two months and you can read them both.
      Layla recently posted…Her Dark Curiosity: Review

    • Layla

      Yeah, when I finished the first book, I felt reluctant to start the second. (I had some feels about the love triangle and really worried that this story was going to be dominated by it, especially based on what I knew of the premise for Her Dark Curiosity.) I do think The Madman’s Daughter could have been a great stand-alone novel, though (esp. if the story were more focused on Juliet’s relationship to her father & her exploration of the island and its new inhabitants). Why did you want it to be a standalone?
      Layla recently posted…Her Dark Curiosity: Review

    • Layla

      Go read it! I think the first one is slower-going (and I had a really, really difficult time dealing with the love triangle in that book – it takes over the narrative at points, and it’s not nearly as compelling as basically anything else that’s happening in the novel). But if you do read one or both of the books, let me know what you think?
      Layla recently posted…Her Dark Curiosity: Review

    • Layla

      Yeah, I liked a lot of the world-building for The Madman’s Daughter, but I was not crazy about the love triangle at all. (I really wanted more on the developing society of beast-men – how does it differ from Wells’s account, e.g., and would have liked more interaction b/w Juliet and the rest of the island.) Do you know why you weren’t feeling it? I do think this is a much, much stronger and more interesting book, though!
      Layla recently posted…Her Dark Curiosity: Review