I recently re-read the first book in the series, The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter, just ahead of the release of the sequel European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman. The first one dealt with Mary Jekyll helping Holmes and Watson solve the Whitechapel Murders, and in doing so uncover the truth behind her father and his assistant Mr. Hyde, who is actually Dr. Jekyll himself, and the mysterious Alchemical Society to which he belongs. On the way, Mary meets her sister, Diana Hyde, Catherine Moreau, Justine Frankenstein and Beatrice Rappacini and together they formed the Athena Club to try and get to the truth about the Alchemical Society. Each one of these girls has been experimented on by their fathers, except Mary and Diana, though Diana is a product of the experiment itself. Joining them is Mary’s housekeeper Mrs. Poole, and the scullery maid – Alice.
At the end of the first book, they receive a letter from Mrs Murray, Mary’s ex-governess, requesting them to help save a Lucinda Van Helsing from her father. At the beginning of the second book, we find them planning their trip to save Lucinda, when Catherine comes along with the news that a few of the members of the Alchemical Society are meeting somewhere in London. They also get another telegram telling them that Lucinda has gone missing.
Mary and Justine, and Diana – who just turned up on the trip – are on their way to Vienna to meet Irene Norton (Adler) on the Orient Express which was paid for, despite Mary’s refusal, by Holmes and Watson. Catherine and Beatrice, on the other hand, have stayed back to figure out what is up with these members meeting up.
Without giving away too many spoilers, I shall only say that everything gets messed up and there’s a kidnapping, an unexpected trip to Styria, they meet some vampires and the president of the Alchemical Society.
Just like the first one, I absolutely loved the second book. This one had more action, more Diana, whom I LOVE, but, sadly, much less of Mrs. Poole. The story was great, even if it was getting slightly draggy in the middle. The breaking of the fourth wall and the dramatic irony was used perfectly in this book and didn’t get too annoying at all. I was afraid that it was a novelty in the first book that might get overused in the second, but thankfully that was not the case at all.
This book also introduces us to a whole host of new characters from other Victorian novels – one might’ve already guessed that Dracula would make an appearance given that Van Helsing is from that series; Carmilla makes an appearance too, from the gothic novella Carmilla by Le Fanu. There are brief references to other gothic, Victorian-era thrillers. I love the re-imagined backstories of some of these Victorian pulp characters, especially Carmen and Laura who are bad-ass, ass-kicking ladies who are practically married in this iteration of their tale. I’m glad that Holmes and Watson take a back seat in this novel, but I sorely missed my dear Mrs. Poole.
It’s really amazing how she weaves together so many different characters from various universes so seamlessly; no character seems out of place or forced. She also writes them, even the supporting characters, with such depth and colour, that it is hard not to fall in love with them and the world that they inhabit. Goss has also described Budapest, Vienna, and Styria with such detail it’s almost as if I were there.
I was really glad to see the relationship between these girls deepen and turn into something more than just a friendship; they’re family now and it’s beautiful. The camaraderie between them is so refreshing to read in books because these days they are usually so dark and sad and serious.
This book is great, its a whole lot of fun and I really can not wait for the third part, BECAUSE IT ENDS ON A CLIFFHANGER AND I NEED THE NEXT BOOK NOW!