Review: ‘The Sinister Mystery of the Mesmerizing Girl’ by Theodora Goss

The Sinister Mystery of the Mesmerizing Girl (The Extraordinary Adventures of the Athena Club, #3)The Sinister Mystery of the Mesmerizing Girl by Theodora Goss
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The first whisperings of the three novels in “The Extraordinary Adventures of the Athena Club” series can be found in Theodora Goss’ doctoral dissertation “The monster in the mirror: late Victorian Gothic and anthropology.” In fact, the members of the club–Mary Jekyll, Diana Hyde, Beatrice Rappaccini, Catherine Moreau, Justine Frankenstein, Lucinda Van Helsing, and Lydia Raymond–often call themselves monsters because they were created by amoral mad scientists.

Athena club members and other primary characters in the series are drawn from (or inspired by) the works of H. G. Wells, Bram Stoker, Robert Lewis Stevenson, Arthur Conan Doyle, Mary Shelley, Nathaniel Hawthorn, Arthur Machen, and Oscar Wilde. The genius behind these multi-layered novels comes not only from their accuracy of the Victorian era and its literature but from the fact that Goss has taken characters from multiple books and fit them hand-in-glove into a delightfully inventive and readable series.

Several years ago, Goss told an interviewer, “What really inspired me was reading the original texts for my Ph.D. in English literature. I wrote a doctoral dissertation on late-19th-century gothic fiction and started noticing that there were a lot of mad scientists running around in the 19th century — and that a lot of those mad scientists either thought of creating or actually created female monsters.”

The monsters of the Athena Club–who often quibble with each other in specially formatted bits of conversation–about the progress of “The Sinister Mystery of the Mesmerizing Girl” solve mysteries using (somewhat) the approach of Mary Jekyll’s friend and mentor Sherlock Holmes. While their powers of deduction aren’t as pure as Holmes’, their special powers provide them with talents Holmes doesn’t have. (Inspector Lestrade doesn’t like them and they don’t like him.)

They react to bad things that happen; this time it’s the simultaneous disappearance of their household maid Alice, Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson and, as it turns out, a threat against the British empire. Near the end of the book, when the women in the club are admonished to stay out of of mischief, Mary Jekyll says, “We don’t get into mischief. It sort of happens to us, or around us, or in our general vicinity.”

Most readers will see that comment as an understatement and as part of the charm of the books. The Athena Club is not a covert black ops group but a family of good monsters who often finds itself trying to thwart the plans of evil monsters. In this series, the women prevail as those who are setting things to rights. On the way to saving the day, the Athena Club’s debates tend to keep everyone grounded, such as when Catherine Moreau, who’s ostensibly recording the group’s adventures, says, “You realize that to a puma, you’re all just meat?”

Sure, they can all kill each other, but going after the bad guys is more fulfilling.

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Today’s stunning Potpourri of stuff

In no particular order. . .

  • I listened to Trump’s speech this morning. It was more low key and measured than I expected. Having said that, I’ll probably wake up tomorrow and read that we bombed something in Iran. I hope we don’t.
  • I tend to agree with Melinda’s comment on yesterday’s post about writer weblogs. She thought people tended to visit after buying a little-known author’s book (or hearing about them) just to learn something more about them rather than to buy a book. I haven’t cancelled my website yet, but I did get rid of a pricey add-on that I really don’t need.
  • My ex-wife and I haven’t spoken (or written) for years, but we both hear about each other via our daughter. I learned yesterday that my ex-wife’s older brother died two days ago. I messaged my daughter that I was sorry to hear the news. That’s all I can do since leaving a message on his Facebook profile or any of his family members’ profiles would probably be seen as a very unwelcome intrusion. He was a great guy.
  • Homemade chilli is simmering in the Dutch oven. Maybe some of it will be around later in the week when the bad weather hits the Southeast. Right now, our low temps here in north Georgia are in the high 20s.
  • I’m currently reading and enjoying Dora Goss’ The Sinister Mystery of the Mesmerizing Girl. It’s the third in her Athena Club series. The club looks into mysteries and other weird stuff. Club members are reading the manuscript as it unfolds, so we frequently have comments and dissenting opinions about the way the story is being handled.
  • It’s been fun watching the special “Jeopardy” competition this week between three all-time winners. Even when we know the answers, the champs say them before we do.

Malcolm

When you find the work you love it’s no longer work

“The one thing you can always count on in life is your work. If you’ve found true, good work to do, it will always be there for you. If you put it aside for a while, it will wait. You may not make money at it, but you will feel that you’ve done something worthwhile.”

– Theodora Goss

Wikipedia graphic

Within the context of her author’s blog, Goss is probably thinking of work as artists and authors view work. Over a half-century, ago, Abraham Maslow in creating his hierarchy of needs said that man’s ultimate motivation is that of fulfilling his/her full potential. He called this level self-actualization. Other psychologists have spoken of this hierarchy using their own terms, but when all is said and done, it defines–for me–why we are here and what our work and other activities are forever drawing us toward.

So, when I think about counting on one’s work, I’m speaking not of jobs/careers that are motivated by power and greed and fame and/or those that turn people into driven workaholics that take them away from family and friends and the wholeness of a balanced life.

Work, it seems, that leads the worker toward self-transformation or possibly toward what Carl Jung called “Individuation,” need not be restricted to artists, authors, composers, dancers. It can be any job or career or hobby that brings joy to the person and that (hopefully) brings love, respect and other similar benefits to his/her family and friends. Some authors separate the kind of work they do with the kind of work a factory worker or a salesman does as though authors are God’s gift to the world and that all other jobs are less important. That kind of vanity bothers me. Sure, some people work jobs they do not like so they can “buy back their time” for activities that lead them toward joy and fulfilment during their off-work hours.

However we define “work,” we are looking for something that makes us better than we were before. Perhaps that work is paying work. Perhaps it’s an avocation or a hobby or a long hike in the high country. Once we have it and know what it is, it’s our personal Nirvana that’s always available.

Malcolm

 

 

 

Review: ‘European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman’ by Theodora Goss

European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman (The Extraordinary Adventures of the Athena Club, #2)European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman by Theodora Goss
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter” was my favorite novel of 2017. I don’t yet know what this year’s favorite book will be, but I’m happy to see that book two in the Athena Club series, “European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman” is a well-written and wondrous sequel. It does not disappoint.

Like book one, it is highly literate, carefully written, and intensely readable. As with the first book in the series, we find a smorgasbord of of myths and literary characters here, including Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, and Doctor Moreau.

I know from Goss’ Facebook page and blog that she Hungarian-born author knows her locations well, and enhances her knowledge of them through yearly travels. This adds a great amount of depth to her books and does the fact that she teaches and researches fairy tales at the college level.

The members of the Athena Club leave London in this story and travel far afield to uncover the nasty projects coming from the rogue members of the alchemist society. One might quibble here that alchemists don’t normally engage in the Frankenstein horrors portrayed in the books, but that’s a small matter. The prospective mix-ups and horrors of travel add to the fun.

Since the novel itself is being written by one of the members of the Athena Club, we see frequent conversations outside the narrative by members of the club as they more or less discuss how they are being portrayed. This is a clever device and provides interesting depth to the story. I do think that it’s used overly much and represents a distraction after a while.

Goss definitely knows what she’s doing here and, when all is said and done, that makes for an exciting story with a lot of overlap with other genres that many of her readers know well. Highly recommended!

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Malcolm

The Fairytale Heroine’s Journey

“When I first started teaching fairy tales at the university level, I noticed that certain tales had a similar underlying structure. They were all tales about heroines, from childhood to marriage, and in those tales the heroines went through a series of life stages: they received gifts, they were required to leave home or lost their homes in some way, they wandered through dark forests, they found temporary homes where they could stay for a while, they encountered friends and helpers along their journey . . . I describe those stages in more detail on the Journey page of this website.”

Source: The Fairytale Heroine’s Journey

Author, researcher, and college professor Theodora Goss* is doing for fairy tales what Joseph Campbell did for myths. That is, she is looking for underlying themes that can be found in many tales. It’s a developing process, and I’m looking forward to seeing this website evolve over time.

*Goss is the author of two wonderful novels, The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter and the sequel European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman.

Malcolm

This and that for avid readers

Even though July 30th was yesterday, this selection of posts about magical realism is still available. If you love the genre, you’ll find some fascinating ideas.

 

New from Thomas-Jacob Publishing, Transformed, a Kindle short story by Smoky Zeidel.  “The way I see it,” said Daniel, “the fence lizard eats the fly, so the fly becomes part of the fence lizard. The fly is the fence lizard. The fence lizard gets eaten by the snake, and thus becomes the snake. What’s to say that snake won’t get snatched up by a Golden Eagle, and thus become the eagle?” Does the same principle apply to humans? Marina is about to find out.

Thank you to all the readers who participated in the recent sweepstakes for Emily’s Stories on Audio Book Reviewer. Kelley Hazen and I are glad you stopped by and signed up. Congratulations to the winners and thanks to those of you who have already posted reviews.

Here’s a copy of my Amazon review for Don Westenhaver’s mystery thriller Missing Star

This post WWI thriller mixes historical and fictional characters in a fast-paced search for a missing actress (Joyce) in the very different Los Angeles of another era. The ambiance and history anchor the story which pits ex-marine aviator (Danny) and against the seedy unknowns of the big city where overlapping police jurisdictions and the corrupt politics of prohibition make it easy for many crimes to fall through the cracks.

Danny is determined to find Joyce in spite of impossible odds, and this makes him a believable and determined main character. Inasmuch as missing persons cases typically includes gaps of time when no new information is found, the story takes a few side trips that, while relevant, slow down the pacing a bit. It also doesn’t seem likely that Danny, as a civilian, would be included in police actions. Otherwise, the story moves well with a high degree of credibility toward a satisfying conclusion. Readers will feel anger over Joyce’s circumstances and respect for Danny’s perseverance, and cannot help but hope that they find each other again and make the bad guys pay for what they’ve done.

 

Recently released from Thomas-Jacob Publishing, Tizita, a new novel by Sharon Heath: “Physics wunderkind Fleur Robins, just a little odd and more familiar with multiple universes than complicated affairs of the heart, is cast adrift when her project to address the climate crisis is stalled. Worse still, her Ethiopian-born fiancé Assefa takes off right after her 21st birthday party to track down his father, who’s gone missing investigating Ethiopian claims to the Ark of the Covenant. Fleur is left to contend with the puzzle of parallel worlds, an awkward admirer, and her best friend Sammie’s entanglement with an abusive boyfriend. Assefa’s reconnection with a childhood sweetheart leads Fleur to seek consolation at Jane Goodall’s Gombe Stream Chimpanzee Reserve, but it’s through a bumbling encounter with her rival that the many worlds of Fleur’s life begin to come together. In the experience of tizita—the interplay of memory, loss, and longing—Fleur is flung into conflicts between science and religion, race and privilege, climate danger and denial, sex and love. With humor, whimsy, and the clumsiness and grace of innocence, Fleur feels her way through the narrow alleyway between hope and despair to her heart’s sweetest home.”

New, from Theodora Goss, my favorite review book for 2017, The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter. See my review here. From the publisher: “Based on some of literature’s horror and science fiction classics, this is the story of a remarkable group of women who come together to solve the mystery of a series of gruesome murders and the bigger mystery of their own origins. Mary Jekyll, alone and penniless following her parents’ death, is curious about the secrets of her father’s mysterious past. One clue in particular hints that Edward Hyde, her father’s former friend and a murderer, may be nearby and there is a reward for information leading to his capture…a reward that would solve all of her immediate financial woes. But her hunt leads her to Hyde’s daughter, Diana, a feral child left to be raised by nuns. With the assistance of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, Mary continues her search for the elusive Hyde and soon befriends more women, all of whom have been created through terrifying experimentation: Beatrice Rappaccini, Catherin Moreau, and Justine Frankenstein. When their investigations lead them to the discovery of a secret society of immoral and power-crazed scientists, the horrors of their past return. Now it is up to the monsters to finally triumph over the monstrous.”

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of magical realism books set in Florida.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Review: ‘The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter

The Strange Case of the Alchemist's DaughterThe Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter by Theodora Goss
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Imagine “monsters” from science fiction and horror classics written by H. G. Wells, Mary Shelley, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Robert Lewis Stevenson working together with Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Watson and Inspector Lestrade to track down the killers in a string of gory London murders.

Odds are, the resulting story would be a chaotic, unbelievable mess. Or, if the muses were kind and the odds were defied, the resulting story would be a breathtaking and expertly plotted Victorian-era fantasy in which the plots, characters and themes of fictional legends fit together in a believable, wondrous harmony.

Theodora Goss’ muses were kind.

The protagonists of legend believed they could create evolved humans out of bits and pieces of the dead. They failed. The evil scientists in Goss’ story have similar ideas. “The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter” has been assembled from the remains of its legendary predecessors, yet unlike the “monsters” of yore, it is strikingly beautiful, functions elegantly with the well-focused skills of its creator, and contains a radiant soul.

Readers familiar with the original stories will enjoy references to even the smallest of details. For everyone else, no footnotes are required because the story stands on its own.

The plot is complicated and compelling and the pace is rapid and perfectly synchronized with a dash of humor. As a writer, I wonder how Goss created a novel that is better than the works from which it takes it themes. I suspect her precision as a poet and short story writer, her love of fairy tales and folklore, and her long-term research into the “monsters” of literature are factors. But those factors are only bits and pieces of the author’s craft, imagination and creative spirit.

Rather than analyse how Goss turned an accident waiting to happen into one of the best novels of the year, I’m willing to write it off and say: “It must be magic.”

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–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of contemporary fantasy, folklore and magical realism short stories and novels.