Apart from Harry Potter which I absolutely loved, I haven’t enjoyed the genre of fantasy much. So, when my librarian showed me this book, my first instinct was to say NO. But then I read the excerpt – it talked about Mary Jekyll and Diana Hyde (we have all read the story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in our childhood), and also about Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. That’s what intrigued me. I knew I had to give this book a try.
The story goes like this – At the end of the nineteenth century, must be the year 1898 AD, when Mary Jekyll receives a telegram that Lucinda Van Helsing has been kidnapped. Being a member of the Athena Club along with other women like Beatrice, Catherine, Justine and Diana, she must travel to the Austro-Hungarian Empire to rescue this young girl who has gone through torturous scientific experimentation.
Before I go further, let me tell you, about the members of Athena Club who Mary met in her previous adventure and who now stay with her in her house at 11 Park Terrace, London. All these women are basically monsters created by scientists in order to better the human race through Artificial Selection as opposed to Natural Selection, the theory proposed by Charles Darwin. Mary Jekyll is Dr. Jekyll’s daughter, an eminent scientist and a member of the S.A (a secretive Alchemical Society). Dr. Jekyll experimented on himself and turned into Dr. Hyde and sired Diana Hyde through another woman. Beatrice is Dr. Rappaccini’s daughter who has purposely raised her a garden of poisonous flowers so that she would be poisonous to other living beings. Justine Frankenstein nee Moritz is reanimated by her mentor Viktor Frankenstein after she is dead. So basically, Justine is a dead person living. Catherine Moreau is the half-finished puma woman from the island of Dr. Moreau, a science fiction novel written by H. G. Wells.
All these 5 women are both powerful and weak in their own respective ways, however, when each of their individual qualities are combined it gives them a definite edge over many others.
Mary along with Justine decide to travel to first Vienna, where Lucinda has been kept in a mental asylum. Diana tags along with them. Their mission is to rescue her from the asylum and take her to Budapest, where the next meeting of the Alchemical Society is held and her father Prof. Van Helsing would be proposing to allow human transfiguration/mutation. Sherlock Holmes aids them financially and introduces these girls to Mrs. Irene Norton, who stays in Vienna. With the help of Mrs. Norton and her clever network of spies, they are able to rescue Lucinda from the asylum and are on their way to Budapest when they get kidnapped.
On the other hand, Holmes disappears too without a word. Now, it’s up to Catherine and Beatrice to find out what happened to their club members and they too embark on a journey to Vienna and then to Budapest.
What follows is an interesting journey where the girls meet spies, vampires and a lot of unexpected benefactors. You really have to read the book to understand the mishmash of characters, the travel, the history and the places.
I liked the title of the book and it was also a factor for me to pick up the book – European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman. Travels in the continent I love and oxymoron-ic monstrous gentlewoman.
The story takes you on a historical ride on the Orient Express, the iconic train journey from Paris to Istanbul has suspended its operations, and then through the beautiful and colorful streets of Vienna and Budapest and shows you some curious delights. It has Sherlock Holmes in the beginning and Count Dracula at the end and so many colorful characters in between that your mind does get overwhelmed for a bit – but it’s a happy overwhelm because you still feel like going on and on to find out who are you going meet next – a spy, a vampire or a monster created in a laboratory by power hungry scientists.
The book is a 700-page story and not once did I feel bored or have the urge to put the book down. It was interesting and gripping from the very first word. All the characters are interesting, and the narration of the story is witty. Be prepared to let out more than a few chuckles. However, there are a few drawbacks.
Sherlock Holmes has a very brief appearance and then disappears for the entire length of the book. I found it strange given that he funded the travel of Mary, Justine and Diana to Vienna and had instructed them to keep him informed of their findings. For a person who likes to be on the top of the things, his mysterious absence disconcerted me. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that it’s a story of female protagonists, there are male characters too, but they are more to help than to lead.
Secondly, whenever the chief characters find themselves in a soup, they are marvelously rescued by a team of their well wishers whom they don’t even know. It happens every time in the story due to which my heart, which would start beating faster every time the protagonists got in trouble initially, stopped getting excited later on.
The story has a medley of characters, all of which have been written upon by various writers – Sherlock Holmes, Justine Moritz aka Frankenstein, Jekyll and Hyde, Catherine Moreau, Beatrice Rappacini, Count Dracula, Ayesha – the Queen of Kor, a vanished African city. The author, Theodora Goss has done extremely well to bring all these characters together in an interesting manner in her story.
This is the second book in the Extraordinary Adventures of the Athena Club. I would recommend you to pick up the first book – The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter, to understand the depth of the characters.
I am taking part in the Write Tribe Reading Challenge and I have opted to read 24 books this year (though I am hoping to read more). There are 24 prompts given, and this book adheres to one of them. Seriously, only one!!
2. A book written by a Female author
6. A retelling of your favorite fairytale/classic
10. A book set in a country that you visited/want to visit
22. A book that has a mythical/imaginary creature