Book Review: The Daughter of Doctor Moreau by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Title: The Daughter of Doctor Moreau
Author: Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Publisher: Del Rey
Publication date: July 19, 2022
Print length: 320 pages
Genre: Science fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
Rating:

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

From the New York Times bestselling author of Mexican Gothic and Velvet Was the Night comes a lavish historical drama reimagining of The Island of Doctor Moreau set against the backdrop of nineteenth-century Mexico.

Carlota Moreau: a young woman, growing up in a distant and luxuriant estate, safe from the conflict and strife of the Yucatán peninsula. The only daughter of either a genius, or a madman.

Montgomery Laughton: a melancholic overseer with a tragic past and a propensity for alcohol. An outcast who assists Dr. Moreau with his scientific experiments, which are financed by the Lizaldes, owners of magnificent haciendas and plentiful coffers.

The hybrids: the fruits of the Doctor’s labor, destined to blindly obey their creator and remain in the shadows. A motley group of part human, part animal monstrosities.

All of them living in a perfectly balanced and static world, which is jolted by the abrupt arrival of Eduardo Lizalde, the charming and careless son of Doctor Moreau’s patron, who will unwittingly begin a dangerous chain reaction.

For Moreau keeps secrets, Carlota has questions, and in the sweltering heat of the jungle, passions may ignite.

THE DAUGHTER OF DOCTOR MOREAU is both a dazzling historical novel and a daring science fiction journey.

Doctor Moreau is certainly having a moment!

Originally introduced in the sci-fi classic The Island of Doctor Moreau by H. G. Wells, published in 1896, this character has remained in the public imagination ever since, as shown by movie adaptations across the years as well as more recent novels that put various spins on the original story. (See my links/notes at the end of this post for more).

In the original, Doctor Moreau works on a remote island, where he uses the practice of vivisection to surgically transform animals into humans. Here in The Daughter of Doctor Moreau, the story is set in the Yucatan, against a backdrop of a Mayan uprising against the colonial landowners.

The main characters are Carlota, the doctor’s daughter, and Montgomery, the new majordomo of the estate, a broken man who drinks to forget, but develops a strong loyalty to both Dr. Moreau and his unusual, beautiful daughter.

Through their shifting perspectives, we follow Carlota over the years as she grows from a young teen to a young woman, obedient to her father and dedicated to caring for the hybrids, whom she sees as family rather than as creations.

Despite the estate’s isolated location, the outside world intrudes, precipitating events that endanger the hybrids and Carlota herself. Secrets are revealed, and Carlota and Montgomery are forced into a battle for survival.

While there are interesting twists to this interpretation of the Doctor Moreau story, I did not find myself particularly absorbed or invested in the story. The narrative feels very episodic and exposition-heavy, and while I enjoyed the descriptions of the natural world of the Yucatan, the characters and the plot did not pull me in to any great extent.

The hybrids remain mostly in the background — unfortunately, since they’re the most interesting part of the story — and Carlota’s secrets, when finally shared, didn’t surprise me at all.

After a very slow start, the book takes a turn for the better and picks up the pace by the mid-point, but overall, for reasons I can’t quite define, I always felt at arms-length from the characters and the story. I wasn’t bored exactly, but I also felt that I could have put the book down and walked away at any point without experiencing much curiosity about the rest of the story. Despite the potential of the overarching story, this book felt a little too flat for me, which was disappointing.

As for Doctor Moreau having a moment — I’ve read two other books in the past couple of years that use The Island of Doctor Moreau as a jumping-off point:

The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter by Theodora Goss is the first book in a very creative YA trilogy, which stars the daughters of famous (fictional) scientists as the central characters — including a very different version of a daughter of Doctor Moreau.

And for something truly different, bizarre, and totally amazing, there’s The Album of Doctor Moreau by Daryl Gregory, which centers on a pop music boy band made up of animal/human hybrids. It’s so weird… and I loved it.

12 thoughts on “Book Review: The Daughter of Doctor Moreau by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

  1. Never good when the way the story is told keeps you from connecting with the characters. I do like that it’s based on The Island of Dr. Moreau. It makes for a fun premise.

  2. Interesting, I didn’t realise that so many books had brought up Dr Moreau again. I remember reading the original one last when I took a MOOC on scifi and fantasy fic. This one does have an interesting premise. Wish it had worked better.

  3. Hi Lisa, after reading Mexican Gothic I’ve been interested in reading another book by Silvia Moreno Garcia. I’m not sure about this one because I’m not that into science fiction. My work friend recommended Velvet Was the Night. I’m going to stop over your review of that to see what you thought! Thanks for the review here! Hope you are doing well. I’m sorry I haven’t been over as much lately. Still juggling a lot of things. 🙂

  4. How was the animal abuse in this book? I didn’t really like the original Island of Dr. Moreau for this reason. I read Mexican Gothic and liked it, so I would consider reading this book as well depending on the whole abuse thing.

    • There’s definitely abuse, although I suppose you could say that in general it’s more implied than shown. Dr. Moreau experiments on animals to create his “hybrids”, and they do suffer. It’s an element of the story, and certainly not glorified, but it is something to be aware of.

  5. I enjoyed this more than you, but I was also disappointed that the hybrids felt more like props than a real part of the story. And yay for The Album of Doctor Moreau! Soooo good😁

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