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
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.