Cover illustration © Kate Forrester.
A sequel to “The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter,” which I thoroughly enjoyed, this one is just out recently. The premise is somewhat similar to that of Alan Moore’s “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen,” but with mainly female protagonists. The cast of the first book includes the main viewpoint character, Mary Jekyll, her young sister Diana Hyde (daughters of the two aspects of the Stevenson character), Catherine, the panther woman from Wells’ “The Island of Dr. Moreau,” Beatrice Rappaccini, the poisonous daughter from the Hawthorne story, and Justine Frankenstein, the “bride” created for Frankenstein’s monster. Catherine is the writer of the book as we read it and she tells it, and the story is often interrupted by comments from the other characters, adding details or disagreeing with Catherine’s narrative, an unusual narrative idea that occasionally gets in the way of the story, but usually adds to it. New characters this time are Irene Adler (Sherlock Holmes’ female counterpart), Mina (Harker) Murray and Count Dracula from the Stoker novel, and Lucinda Van Helsing taking off from the same book. Another important character makes a late appearance, which I won’t spoil.
As the title suggests, the Athena Club, as the women call themselves, are summoned to Europe initially to find and save Lucinda Van Helsing, who is being experimented on by her father. (All the women have been victims of similar treatment.) Mary, Diana and Beatrice lead off, and are followed separately by Catherine and Justine once the first three disappear. It’s a long book with many twists and turns, plenty of thrilling adventures, and exotic locales from Paris to Vienna, the Carpathian mountains to Budapest, all well researched. Other literary and historic figures make appearances, and each character has moments to shine, and moments to fail and be helped by her companions.
A work of fiction requires one to suspend disbelief. The characters must seem real. That’s even harder when the characters have pasts in other books. The one area in this one where I felt the author took a wrong turn was in the handling of Count Dracula. All the characters and their back-stories differ at times from their creator’s versions, but Dracula differs too much, in my opinion, and I could not accept the role he plays in this story completely. I kept waiting for the “real” Dracula to be revealed, and it didn’t happen.
In all, though, it’s a wonderful read, just the kind of thing fantasy and horror fans are likely to enjoy. By all means start with the first book, then read this one. I’m on board for the next one whenever the author can produce it!