Laurie R. King Virtual Book Club discussion

The Strange Case of the Alchemist's Daughter (The Extraordinary Adventures of the Athena Club, #1)
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Archived VBC Selections > The Strange Case of the Alchemist's Daughter by Theodora Goss - VBC April 2019

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message 1: by Erin (last edited Apr 01, 2019 09:31AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Erin (tangential1) | 1638 comments Mod
Our selection for April is a fun gaslamp fantasy/mystery that's unlike anything I've ever read. The story starts as a bit of a spinoff of the classic Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde story by Robert Louis Stevenson, focusing on a daughter, but quickly picks up characters and cameos from several other characters from Victorian sience fiction/fantasy literature, weaving them into a fast-paced adventure. Including our favorite consulting detective and his biographer!

So let's get reading! And to start us off, has anyone read any of the classic stories that are referenced? Dr. Jekyll? Frankenstein? Dr. Moreau?


Erin (tangential1) | 1638 comments Mod
Oh, and second question, if you've started reading: what do you think of the narrative interjections? I found them a little jarring at first, but rather enjoyed the character commentary as I got used to it.


Tami (pdxbridgegirl) | 1 comments I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I've both read it and listened to it on Audiobook. The narrative on audio is especially enjoyable, as Kate Reading is the narrator. She is by far my favorite voice actor. I've listened to a large percentage of books she's narrated. I've found my way to many literary treats because I've searched by Kate Reading, rather than the author. Her amazingly wide range of voices helps a lot with the narration shifts, too. This particular book is available on Overdrive (Libby) for checkout through many libraries in both written and audio form.
https://www.overdrive.com/media/29887...
https://www.overdrive.com/media/32798...

Enjoy!
T


message 4: by Dayna (new)

Dayna | 204 comments I have read Frankenstein and The Island of Dr. Moreau but not Dr. J and Mr. H. Is there a historical reference for The Poisonous Beauty? I’m finding the interjections annoying, but I intrigued enough to stick with the book for now.


message 5: by Erin (last edited Apr 01, 2019 11:17AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Erin (tangential1) | 1638 comments Mod
Dayna wrote: "Is there a historical reference for The Poisonous Beauty?"

There is! She's from a short story by Nathaniel Hawthorne: Rappaccini's Daughter

ETA: I found a pdf if anyone is interested! http://www.columbia.edu/itc/english/f...


Erin (tangential1) | 1638 comments Mod
I wonder if the interjections wouldn't have worked better as footnotes. In any case, they don't really have an affect on the narrative, so you could just completely skip over them while reading. For all forms except audiobook, of course. But, as Tami said, all the voices that the reader adds in made the interjections more fun.


message 7: by KarenB (new)

KarenB | 352 comments I've just gotten started and am, indeed, finding the interjections annoying. But I shall persevere!!

I've read Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, albeit a LONG time ago, Frankenstein and excerpts from Dr. Moreau. Thanks for the link to the short story, Erin. I'm going to head over there.


Julie | 5 comments I listened to the book on Audible when it first came out and really enjoyed it because its so different and really funny. I liked the interjections, after getting used to them, because they end up enhancing our understanding of each character. I have also read (listened to) the sequel, which is not quite as good, needing some editing because it it is quite long, but still fun and inventive.


Ellen | 56 comments I just reread Frankenstein a few months ago, and while I haven't read Jekyll and Hyde, I actually picked it up a few days ago to quickly skim before continuing with this book. I always like knowing where references come from!

The interjections were a little annoying initially, but I think I'm getting used to it. We'll see how it goes as I get further into the book. I also got the audiobook, so I may try that while I'm doing chores around the house.


message 10: by Dayna (new)

Dayna | 204 comments I’ve started skipping the interjections unless they are longer. I got tired of reading the “no I didn’t—yes you did.”


message 11: by Mary (last edited Apr 03, 2019 06:57PM) (new)

Mary (storytellermary) | 260 comments Erin wrote: "Dayna wrote: "Is there a historical reference for The Poisonous Beauty?"

There is! She's from a short story by Nathaniel Hawthorne: Rappaccini's Daughter

ETA: I found a pdf if anyon..."


Thanks for that! I was familiar with the others, even wrote a paper on Creation Mythology in Modern Literature, referencing Shelly, the golem myth on which she based Frankenstein's monster (an antique text my professor loaned me), Asimov (robots), and RUR (Czech robot play, Adam and Eve).
I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and am moving on to book two shortly . . . and a third is in the works. ;-)
Have you invited the author to join the discussion?


Antoinette | 186 comments You all have talked me into reading the Strange Case.... I just bought the last copy the local Barnes & Nobles had in stock. I'll start reading tonight.


Antoinette | 186 comments I'm hooked. About half way through the book. I enjoy the interjections because they let the reader know how the characters are relating to each other after the mystery is solved. Thank you to the person who chose the book for us.


message 14: by Emily (new)

Emily | 341 comments I enjoyed this a lot. A good mashup, and a nice female-centered cast without being a girl power tract.

In the author's note (hopefully not too spoiler-y, I don't think it matters), she asks why so many 19th-century horror writers created female monsters. What do you think? Offhand, I can think of a couple of reasons:
1. The juxtaposition of what women were supposed to be and were naturally like (soft, nurturing, delicate) with horrifying deeds and actions is artistically appealing
2. There is an unspoken undercurrent that these monsters are being created as sexual subordinates.

I'm also not sure it's completely true - Frankenstein's monster is a man, and so is Mr. Hyde, and I'm sure we could find others, but it's an interesting question.

Other thoughts?


message 15: by Erin (new) - rated it 4 stars

Erin (tangential1) | 1638 comments Mod
Emily wrote: "I'm also not sure it's completely true - Frankenstein's monster is a man, ."

That's actually the first thought I had in response to the question. Because I don't remember any of the Victorian monsters being women either. Though, after reading this book, I'm now interested in picking up those Gothic horror novels. It rather sounds like there are plenty of references to the mad scientists attempting to make female monsters, but then either changing their mind and destroying their monsters (Frankenstein) or being destroyed by these creations (Rappaccini and Moreau).

It is kind of interesting that they get away with all their mad sciencing until they turn their focus on women. Is that a commentary on the strength of women? Or (more likely, given the time period) commentary on how society would view their work?

And I actually found an interview that Ms. Goss did a few years ago for B&N's fantasy blog that's about this exact topic! https://www.barnesandnoble.com/blog/s...


message 16: by Erin (new) - rated it 4 stars

Erin (tangential1) | 1638 comments Mod
We're not quite to the 10th yet, so keeping it spoiler free still...

What did you think of Holmes and Watson's roles in this book? Did Goss get their characters right?

I have to say, I think she rather missed an obvious potential connection point in that Watson's wife's name is Mary. Mary Watson could have previously been Mary Jekyll! But there are two more books yet to go, so who knows, maybe we'll get there.


Ellen | 56 comments Erin wrote: "We're not quite to the 10th yet, so keeping it spoiler free still...

What did you think of Holmes and Watson's roles in this book? Did Goss get their characters right?

I have to say, I think she ..."


I'm still reading the book, so obviously don't know if this happens in other books or not, but the Watson/Mary connection was the first thing I thought of when Diana commented that Watson seemed to have a "thing" for Mary after they returned home from Whitechapel. Foreshadowing?


message 18: by Mary (new)

Mary (storytellermary) | 260 comments Erin wrote: "Emily wrote: "I'm also not sure it's completely true - Frankenstein's monster is a man, ."

That's actually the first thought I had in response to the question. Because I don't remember any of the ..."

https://www.barnesandnoble.com/blog/s...
That's a wonderful interview, so many insights, including time to write while teaching. Howard Schwartz, for whose class I wrote the Creation Mythology paper, said that as a new teacher he'd opted for a university position for less money rather than being a high school teacher (for higher pay) in order to have time to write.


message 19: by Emily (new)

Emily | 341 comments Did Poe have any female monsters (or villains)? I'm not remembering any offhand.


message 20: by Mary (last edited Apr 10, 2019 08:47AM) (new)

Mary (storytellermary) | 260 comments I can't think of any. I did have a student passionately argue that Madeline Usher was evil, but when I challenged him to back up his claim with any example from the text, he couldn't . . . "just a feeling" doesn't substantiate a claim, though it tells something of the person doing the interpretation. I thanked him for caring enough to argue, high school students are sometimes reluctant to engage.


message 21: by KarenB (new)

KarenB | 352 comments Perhaps the creation of a female monster, since women were placed on a pedestal, was so far beyond the pale as to have to be punished? A female monster, it seems to me, could very well embody qualities that a woman most definitely should not have - lack of morals, an animal nature, anger, violence, etc.


message 22: by Erin (new) - rated it 4 stars

Erin (tangential1) | 1638 comments Mod
KarenB wrote: "Perhaps the creation of a female monster, since women were placed on a pedestal, was so far beyond the pale as to have to be punished?"

Along the same line: I've been thinking more on the creation process, which seems pretty gruesome in all of the stories. Women are always portrayed as innocents requiring protection, so perhaps it's that destruction of innocents that is unthinkable and must be punished?

Torturing a man for science is horrible, of course, but torturing a woman for science? That's just not done.

But probably pedestals and female innocence/frailty are the same thing for Victorian England?


message 23: by Erin (new) - rated it 4 stars

Erin (tangential1) | 1638 comments Mod
It's after the 10th! Free feel to speak of spoilers without fear!


message 24: by Erin (new) - rated it 4 stars

Erin (tangential1) | 1638 comments Mod
Okay, here's something that's been bothering me: why do Justine and Catherine speak of the scientists who transformed them as their "father"?

I get the arguments for why the scientists might refer to their "creations" as children, but Justine had a life before it was ruined by association with the Frankensteins. And Catherine reminds us constantly that she used to be a puma and has plenty of memories of her life before Moreau.


message 25: by Mary (new)

Mary (storytellermary) | 260 comments There was mention of daughters being more susceptible to experiments, which reminded me of references to biddable girls and young women, willing to be instructed and molded by fathers and eventual husbands. I wonder also if there's an attitude of women being less valued, expendable, which makes it even more wonderful when these women band together to fight for their very existence.


message 26: by Mary (new)

Mary (storytellermary) | 260 comments This might be of interest Theodora Goss's thesis
The monster in the mirror: late Victorian Gothic and anthropology
https://open.bu.edu/handle/2144/31561...


message 27: by KarenB (new)

KarenB | 352 comments Can we talk about the ending yet?


Heather | 1 comments I am enjoying the interjections, once I got used to the idea of them being there.

I’ve read “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” and so I’m enjoying those references, and i was delighted when Holmes and Watson appeared as well!

I’m enjoying this via “regular” book and Audible, because I had a feeling I’d want to digest it 24/7 until I was done. :)


message 29: by Erin (new) - rated it 4 stars

Erin (tangential1) | 1638 comments Mod
KarenB wrote: "Can we talk about the ending yet?"

Yes! Go for it!


Ellen | 56 comments Erin wrote: "Okay, here's something that's been bothering me: why do Justine and Catherine speak of the scientists who transformed them as their "father"?

I get the arguments for why the scientists might refe..."


Well, Justine did have a life before, but she also doesn't really remember it. And while Catherine has memories from before, she wasn't a human. So maybe the fact that these men are responsible for their current existence is why they consider them "father"? Justine also feels very kindly toward Victor Frankenstein, though Catherine does not feel the same toward Dr. Moreau. Justine also comments that Justine Moritz's father had died when she was young, so she didn't really have a father until Victor.


message 31: by KarenB (new)

KarenB | 352 comments So did the ending bother anyone else? I felt like the book just stopped rather than ended - the group was practically in mid-conversation.


Ellen | 56 comments KarenB wrote: "So did the ending bother anyone else? I felt like the book just stopped rather than ended - the group was practically in mid-conversation."

Yes, I finished it this morning and my reaction was, "Wait, that's it?"

Clearly, we're just supposed to immediately pick up the second book!


message 33: by Erin (last edited Apr 18, 2019 11:09AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Erin (tangential1) | 1638 comments Mod
Ellen wrote: "Clearly, we're just supposed to immediately pick up the second book!."

Yeah, that's what I was thinking. Actually, I thought the epilogue was probably just a bit longer than necessary to truly end the central plot. There's clearly a lot of set-up for book 2. And even more hinting at future adventures.

I struggled with trying to determine chronology. Like when are they writing the book compared to when the story is supposed to take place? Has the Athena club been going strong for years? Or months? And how did they jump from assisting Holmes to taking on their own cases?


message 34: by Laura (new)

Laura Stratton | 240 comments Overall I did like this book. And I'm very happy that I finished it in time to join the discussion.
I did love that the main characters were all female and that Holmes and Watson were secondary characters.
Did anyone else feel like the author was trying to shove in as many references to classic mystery novels as possible? At times I felt like it was just a mashup of
characters.
The best written part of the book was Justine's description of her story.
KarenB asked if anyone else was bothered by the ending. Book endings are one of my Pet Peeves. I'm often frustrated by endings. Too many authors write well crafted fun novels and then don't know how to finish them. This was over of those books.


message 35: by Mary (new)

Mary (storytellermary) | 260 comments It did feel like a confusing mix until the characters developed and found their places together and I managed to sort out "who's who."
I didn't mind the ending, major plot points resolved (I do hate cliff-hangers), with just a hint of future adventures. I am planning to read the next, but might need to weight train a bit to handle its massiveness. ;-)


message 36: by Erin (new) - rated it 4 stars

Erin (tangential1) | 1638 comments Mod
Mary wrote: "I am planning to read the next, but might need to weight train a bit to handle its massiveness. ;-)"

LOL, right? It's like 700+ pages! Thank goodness for ebooks and audio!


message 37: by Erin (new) - rated it 4 stars

Erin (tangential1) | 1638 comments Mod
Laura wrote: "Did anyone else feel like the author was trying to shove in as many references to classic mystery novels as possible? At times I felt like it was just a mashup of characters."

I did feel that way a bit, but I thought it was cleverly done.

Is the mystery at the center basically a Jack the Ripper story, do you think? She never comes out and calls him that, but a series of horribly murdered prostitutes? Hard to not make that connection.


message 38: by Erin (new) - rated it 4 stars

Erin (tangential1) | 1638 comments Mod
Oh, and let's talk about the title for a second. I know it's a play on the Jekyll & Hyde story title, but is it accurate given the overall plot of the book?


Antoinette | 186 comments Erin wrote: "Mary wrote: "I am planning to read the next, but might need to weight train a bit to handle its massiveness. ;-)"

LOL, right? It's like 700+ pages! Thank goodness for ebooks and audio!"


I'll pass on any book that's 700+ pages.


message 40: by KarenB (new)

KarenB | 352 comments Basically I felt that the premise was both interesting and fun - love to see the powerless women act with power! But, it could have seriously used an involved editor who worked with the author. The way this book was written and if the second book is 700 pages, it seems to me that Ms. Goss doesn't really know how to plot. She's clearly an able writer, and is particularly good with voice, but this book wandered around several plots and only sort of came to a conclusion.


message 41: by MaryL (new)

MaryL (maryl1) | 234 comments I liked this book but found the second one so tedious I returned it to Audible. She seriously needs a GOOD editor. (Which is a complaint I'm making more and more alas)


message 42: by KarenB (new)

KarenB | 352 comments From what the authors I know have said, editors are less and less able to help an author craft a book. Most of the authors I know, who are not in the best-selling category, depend on beta readers and writing groups to help beat their book into shape.


message 43: by MaryL (new)

MaryL (maryl1) | 234 comments KarenB wrote: "From what the authors I know have said, editors are less and less able to help an author craft a book. Most of the authors I know, who are not in the best-selling category, depend on beta readers a..."

It shows.


message 44: by Susan (new)

Susan Matchett | 7 comments I do appreciate your comments on the story line wandering about a bit, I had just considered my attention span lacking. 🤔


message 45: by Erin (new) - rated it 4 stars

Erin (tangential1) | 1638 comments Mod
KarenB wrote: "but this book wandered around several plots and only sort of came to a conclusion.."

I don't know; I didn't find the plotting particularly bad. It was all moving in a clear direction, introducing characters along the way (though I will give you that the flashback of individual stories for each of the characters were more like asides and didn't really fit into the overarching plot). It wasn't really a mystery plot, though.


message 46: by Erin (new) - rated it 4 stars

Erin (tangential1) | 1638 comments Mod
Last day of the discussion! Any final comments? How many people were interested enough to pick up the second book?


message 47: by Dayna (new)

Dayna | 204 comments I’m not likely to read the next book. The plot was interesting enough but I can’t get past the commentary. That plus there are too many other books at want to read and too little time right now. I just don’t care enough about the characters (like I do Russell and Holmes) to do another one. But I’m glad I read this one.


message 48: by Mary (new)

Mary (storytellermary) | 260 comments I have picked it up (oof, heavy!) but haven't read it yet. Spring seems filled with so many new titles that I haven't gotten to it yet, but I will.


message 49: by Emily (new)

Emily | 341 comments I read the second one and agree with everyone who says it needs an editor. It's really too bad - I think the characters are appealing and the set-up is interesting, it's just that the writing meanders and I kept losing interest.


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