Review: The Madman's Daughter by Megan Shepherd

Rating: 4 stars
Pub Date: January 29, 2013
Publisher: Balzer + Bray (and imprint of Harper Collins)
Genre: young adult, science fiction, historical
Format/Source: Hardcover, borrowed from the library
Status: Book 1 of the Madman's Daughter trilogy

In the darkest places, even love is deadly.

Sixteen-year-old Juliet Moreau has built a life for herself in London—working as a maid, attending church on Sundays, and trying not to think about the scandal that ruined her life. After all, no one ever proved the rumors about her father's gruesome experiments. But when she learns he is alive and continuing his work on a remote tropical island, she is determined to find out if the accusations are true.

Accompanied by her father's handsome young assistant, Montgomery, and an enigmatic castaway, Edward—both of whom she is deeply drawn to—Juliet travels to the island, only to discover the depths of her father's madness: He has experimented on animals so that they resemble, speak, and behave as humans. And worse, one of the creatures has turned violent and is killing the island's inhabitants. Torn between horror and scientific curiosity, Juliet knows she must end her father's dangerous experiments and escape her jungle prison before it's too late. Yet as the island falls into chaos, she discovers the extent of her father's genius—and madness—in her own blood.

Inspired by H. G. Wells's classic
The Island of Dr. Moreau, The Madman's Daughter is a dark and breathless Gothic thriller about the secrets we'll do anything to know and the truths we'll go to any lengths to protect.

Let me preface this review with two things: 1. Megan Shepherd has scary thoughts that truly terrify me, and 2. Those thoughts led to the creation of a seriously intriguing, if super creepy, novel.
I was drawn into this story immediately. Like BOOM! First few pages we've got these great descriptions of a crappy service job, cute but overpriveleged boys and a vivisection. If those things don't wake you up, I really don't know what will. I was seriously captivated by the ominous, gothic tone set by Shepherd's writing. The mood of the book darkens steadily from London to the ship to the island, which is odd because a tropical island is a place that should make you think of vacation and the beach and mani/pedis. Instead, Dr. Moreau's island is a twisted playground for half-human/half-animal hybrids made all the worse by haunting descriptions of a red tin slaughterhouse, dilapidated cabins, and foreign stretches of jungle. This story will suck you in and spit you out with bonus nightmares.

At the heart of this creepy tale, Megan Shepherd explores what it is that makes a being human or a monster. Is it being born a homo sapian or is it being created and maniupulated to act like one? On one hand we have actual human characters (no names because not everyone is as they appear....), some of whom manipulate natural animals into manmade creatures who then become like man in a bizarre perversion of the theory of art imitating life. On the other hand, we have those creatures, many of whom act with more humanity and conscience than the actual human characters do! And the audience is pulled along through this sordid mystery with Juliet. I have to say, I honestly didn't call many of the gotcha moments (although one should be fairly obvious) like I normally do when I read. I was completely taken aback by at least two shocking revelations, and seriously, that so very rarely happens that I have to give Shepard credit for pulling them over on me.

Throughout The Madman's Daughter, I really felt connected to Juliet. I think she's a great protagonist. Juliet is tough and doesn't have problems making hard choices, although she feels conflicted about them. That's a fantastic quality to have: to  have the humility and compassion to say that there isn't a 100% good decision, but to make a decision nonetheless because it is what needs to be done.

That's a quality I believe Montgomery also possesses, but in him... *sigh* I wish he were slightly less noble. Montgomery's execution of this principle is exactly what forces the need for a sequel, which I'm not entirely sure the story requires on its own. Montgomery is a stalwart character both physically and morally. Like Juliet, I was frustrated with many of his choices, but I don't believe he was often presented with an option to make an opposing choice. I think he mostly had to just go with what he had and do the best with it.

Meanwhile Edward presents the dark alternative. He's mysterious, unknown and completely removed from the situation until events literally force him onto the island. Edward represents the kind of life Juliet could have had if her father weren't such an enormous psychotic tool, and for that reason, I never bought into Edward as a viable candidate for Juliet's affections, but he's an intriguing character simply for his lack of a past and connection to the situation, especially when clues pop up about the possibility of that connection existing after all.

Balthazaar...well, he's just darling. I think he should have been featured a bit more. Juliet seems to care for him, but he just wasn't around enough for me to believe in that relationship.

And then Dr. Moreau is, as I said, a huge tool and psychopathic nightmare. If he pops up again, I shall be very upset indeed. What a heinous character. Ugh. Scientific curiousity can be a great tool that leads to wondrous discovery, but you have to ask yourself where is the line and at what point have you crossed it? The moral compass that exists almost solely inside each one of us, that we innately discover in ourselves, that tells us where that line lies is clearly lacking in the doctor. His calculated cruelty to beast and humans alike is something I might even compare to characters like Voldemort and Bellatrix Lestrange.

My one complaint with The Madman's Daughter is simply that as Megan Shepherd's debut novel, it contains a lot of rookie writer mistakes that I have no doubt will be corrected by the time #2 and #3 come out. These things are pretty trivial, but I do find it frustrating when an authors describes a sequence of actions only to leave a couple steps out. Then I sit there asking myself did something just happen or did it not, even if it's a small and relatively meaningless moment. An example of this is a seated character suddenly walking out of the room. I sit there and wonder if I missed that character standing up. At one point Juliet puts down a set of shears, but then she has them one scene later. It's not important to the story, but it's important to my interpretation of the story, to my imagining the scene. The word "again" is a veritable nightmare for me because I always find myself searching for the first time the action was performed. Sorry, authors, I'm just OCD. ;)

All in all, The Madman's Daughter is a spooky sci fi debut that will keep you up at night, partly from not wanting to put it down and partly from the fact that you'll be too creeped out to sleep! I look forward with great anticipation to the sequels (and hopefully more shirtless Montgomery because really, that's what we all need more of!).

Recommended for: Sci-fi lovers.
Not recommended for: Readers who dislike historical and science fiction. Anyone who can't stomach details about blood, guts, etc.
Book Links:

About the Author:
Megan Shepherd was "born" into the book world, growing up in her parents' independent bookstore in Western North Carolina. She is the author of THE MADMAN'S DAUGHTER trilogy (Balzer+Bray/2013), and THE CAGE trilogy (Balzer+Bray/2015). When Megan is not writing, she can usually be found horseback riding, day dreaming at coffee shops, or hiking in the beautiful Blue Ridge mountains. She is represented by Josh Adams at Adams Literary.

Author Links:


  1. This sounds amazing! I'm reading all spooky stories leading up to Halloween and this is perfect! I love historical fiction and horror. you don't often find them together!

    1. SO GOOD. This one is based on The Island of Dr. Moreau, the sequel is based on Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, and #3 will be based on Frankenstine! Megan is definitely really into the old-school horror classics, and it works out so well!

  2. I'm commenting again because I just finished this and need to talk about it! OMG! I loved it! It kept me up way too late. I in a bit of shock about the ending.