Review: The Madman's Daughter by Megan Shepherd

The Madman's Daughter - Megan Shepherd

I adore my dog. I love everything about her. She's just an amazing person. She's a pug mix and loves life with a fierce passion. Everything makes her face light up, and if dogs possessed the necessary facial muscles to smile, she would be permanently grinning. She loves lying in the sunshine, chasing seagulls at the park, wrestling with the cats and eating scrambled eggs. She loves swimming in the ocean and getting ice-cream on the way home. She sleeps in my bed with me every night and wakes me up in the morning, licking my face ready to enjoy another day. When I come home from work she greets me with unbridled joy, barking and wagging her tail so hard her whole bottom shakes. She is my constant companion. We watch TV together, we ride the train together and she likes to help me hang laundry. We go get coffee together in the city centre where she stalks pigeons while I meet with friends. She likes visiting the book store and she waits patiently while I shop for shoes. Every time we visit the bank she's utterly charming and earns hugs and treats from all the assistants. She has to sit in my lap every time I take a seat. She very insistent about this! She's travelled with me all over the UK, has been hiking with me and shopping through Glasgow City centre, has eaten at countless restaurants and spent hours on the back seat of the car. To me, she's perfect - bug eyes and all. And to me she has a heart and a soul and an endless capacity to love.


The Madman's Daughter was interesting in the way it challenged this idea - that animals are people - and explored what makes us human. This is an issue very close to my heart. I'm connected and strongly attached to all my animals and to think of them as simply animals, incapable of thoughts and feelings is a concept alien to me. This is why I refuse to eat meat. I'm not risking eating a creature with a soul. All my animals are so unique and complex, each with their own likes and dislikes, their own voices and their own minds. To think of them along the lines of objects, things to be scorned and looked down upon is, to me, revolting.


Juliet Moreau believes her father to be dead and finds herself alone and adrift on the streets of London, desperately trying to hold together a life. A ghost from the past appears, her father's assistant, Montgomery and she discovers that her father is in fact alive and well, continuing his scientific and experimental work on an isolated island following his exile from English society where his experiments were deemed too scandalous and controversial for the people of London to tolerate. Juliet accompanies Montgomery on his return to the remote island, meeting the mysterious Edward along the way, and on finding her father, discovers some horrific secrets and uncovers the truth of his banishment and the extent of his madness, or perhaps brilliance.

The Madman's Daughter is an incredibly original and captivating story. I felt sucked into Juliet's world from the first page. She has a brilliantly unique voice and is a very interesting character in that she is entirely unlike a woman of the time and doesn't behave as a 19th century English lady should behave. She stands up for what she believes in and is not afraid to speak her mind. She's brave, loyal and gets shit done. I like that! I usually hate historical fiction with a vengeance. I don't read anything that is not exclusively set in present day or the future as the language and setting of anything historic normally grate heavily on me. But The Madman's Daughter surprised me as it was neither heavy nor tedious in it's writing as I usually would find books set in the Victorian period. The writing is generally flowing and well paced, and the dialog is easy going and fresh.


The subject matter - yikes! It's gruesome but then I expected that as it touted as horror. The descriptions of Juliet's father's experiments are intense but not gratuitous. The debate regarding the differences and similarities between humans and animals was very interesting. I like to think we can view ourselves as equals to some degree. I can't stand animal cruelty! I feel that if more people held the view that animals should be treated with respect, dignity and fairness then animals would come to less harm in the world. I couldn't bring myself to hurt a creature. I would only feel I was hurting myself. Juliet herself had a different and interesting take on this and laughed at Montgomery's attachment to his childhood pet dog, finding it ridiculous that he could treat it as a friend. She looked down her nose at her father's creations, labelling them "walking experiments" despite their obvious capacity to show caring and their ability to learn. A fine line is drawn between the humans and the creatures, brought home to Juliet when she discovers that the servant girl she mistook for a human-being is in fact a creature herself, put together from pieces of a sheep and a few rabbits.


So if an animal is able to be manipulated to appear human and act human, enough to fool a genuine human, then where does humanity come into the equation? What makes us who we are? What separates us from the animals? Juliet's father claims the thumb as the distinction, but of course there's more to the question that the way we are made physiologically. It must be down to our ability to convey complex emotions and ideas, to imagine and plan. But there's more to it than stating that humans can love and think ahead. I have seen animals grieve for the loss of another, I have seen my own dog work as a team with our cats to open cupboard doors. I think we must accept this as an unknown, otherwise we're in danger of becoming incredibly arrogant. You cannot get inside a creature's head and think as it does, we will never see the world through the eyes of a dog or a cat. So we will never truly know. I feel safer assuming that the love my dog gives me is genuine, heart felt emotion and that it's important to keep her soul safe by offering her respect and love in return. I would never assume she was stupid, or slow.


Which is exactly the mistake that Juliet's father makes. He assumes his creations, because they were born animals are capable of being manipulated and controlled. And that they are unable to revolt against him as they cannot think for themselves, plan or scheme. Well, my friends - let's just say he was wrong. K? (I'm trying to keep spoilers to a minimum!)


So I found the ideas explored fascinating. I loved the main character. I enjoyed the lively description. The plot was generally well paced. So why'd I rate it so damn low?!!


The love triangle. The dreaded, inescapable love triangle. God, it got tedious! Juliet was trapped between her long standing loyalty and affection to Montgomery, and her fascination and attraction to Edward. This is fine. Okay. I get it. She's a young girl, and there were certain expectations of a Victorian girl to settle down with a man and get married. But did she really have to go on about it so intensely?! There were other matters that were rather more pressing than Edward's gold flecked eyes and Montgomery's strong muscled physique! Uh, what about the "monster" rampaging the island murdering left, right and centre?!! What about the little issue of her father being completely bat-shit crazy, cruel and at times, downright vicious?!! Juliet to-ed and fro-ed between the two boys for the entire book which was just too dull for words. I got real tired of her shit by the end. Holy crap Juliet - just pick one! She finished up seeming like a real bitch, almost like she was toying with them. She was fully aware that they were both in love with her, even Montgomery who she tried to kid herself that he was in love with someone else. And yet she continued to bounce between the two, even going so far as to openly trying to create jealousy and some rift. Aargh! It was so insufferable.


And the end! Oh the end ..... The end pissed me off. It wasn't very satisfying. Some conclusions were drawn and most things were wrapped up but there was still some uncertainty, although I've just realised that this is book one of a series so that would explain it .... The end really highlighted Juliet's arrogance. I won't give it away but it showed her true character which I felt was a very interesting way to finish up.


It was kinda cool to read something unusual. I seem to get stuck in a rut of reading the same old crap, just bound in a different cover which becomes a big fat yawn after a while. The Madman's Daughter really livened things up! I'm thinking of other ways to liven things up around here too - adding a new kitten to the gang would do it! I would really love another siamese. They're such amazing cats. Though my little guy has some strange habits - he loves to watch eggs boiling. Weirdo .....