Friday, April 4, 2014

Her Dark Curiosity by Megan Shepherd

Her Dark Curiosity picks up Juliet Moreau's story several months after she returns to England. Previously in The Madman's Daughter, she had barely escaped her father's island and its terrible beast men created by her father. The man she loved, Montgomery, her father's assistant had stayed behind to try to tend to the creatures. Juliet was picked up, adrift in the dinghy, three weeks later by a ship bound for Cape Town, South Africa. From there she traveled to Dakur and onto Lisbon, Spain. Desperately ill during the last part of her journey, Juliet was cared for by her best friend, Lucy Radcliffe.

But in London when Dr. Hastings learned of her whereabouts, he had Juliet thrown in jail for attacking him. Fortunately, Juliet was rescued by her father's colleague, Professor von Stein who successfully had the charges dropped. Von Stein was the colleague who reported Juliet's father to the police for his unethical experimentation/research. He is now determined to save Juliet and has taken her into his home.  Despite his kindness to her, Juliet has never told the Professor about her father's continued experimentation nor his creation of the beast men. She has never told him about the creation of Edward Prince, "a young man created from a handful of animal parts chemically transmuted using human blood." Edward loved Juliet but he was a man who contained a beast within, who at any moment could take control and murder.

Juliet too has her own secrets - the most important of which involves her condition. Born with a deformed spine, her father straightened her spine and replaced several of her missing organs with those from a fawn. Her body is always attempting to reject the foreign tissue, causing Juliet bouts of dizziness and tremors. To prevent this Juliet has always taken daily injections, but now they are no longer working.

To try to find a serum that works, she has rented a small attic in a lodging house in Shoreditch. She feels more at home in the attic with its rustic atmosphere, where she can be herself and where she uses animal parts from a butcher to try to replicate the serum her father made for her.

Nevertheless, living most of her time at the professor's home, Juliet must try to adjust to London society. As Juliet continues to try to assimilate back into London society, the city is gripped in terror by four gruesome murders. Each of the bloody murders has seen the victims badly mauled, leading newspapers to dub the murderer the Wolf of Whitechapel. Upon learning the names of the victims, Juliet is horrified to discover that they are all people she knew and who had harmed her in some way.

Determined to examine the victims, Juliet sneaks into the Kings College of Medical Research morgue. From the type of injuries, she comes to the conclusion that Edward Prince did not die on the island, but has survived and managed to travel to London.

Meanwhile, Juliet's friend, Lucy, reveals that she has two suitors, neither of whom she particularly likes; Inspector John Newcastle who is leading the investigation into the Wolf of Whitechapel murders and a strange man named Henry who has a strange appeal to Lucy. When Juliet meets Henry, who goes by the name of Henry Jaykll from Finland, she recognizes him at once as Edward Prince.

Juliet confronts Edward in private and tells him he must stop the Beast within him from murdering. Edward reveals to Juliet that Montgomery is alive and has been hunting him on the island. Scared he would kill Montgomery, Edward escaped the island to come to London in the hopes of finding a cure for his transformation into the Beast. Edward admits to loving Juliet, telling her that the Beast loves her too. He is finding it more and more difficult to control the beast, that the beast is able to retain his form longer each time and that he feels he is losing himself to the beast. Juliet takes Edward to her attic room begging him to chain himself there. During this time, Professor von Stein's neice, Elizabeth arrives from Scotland. She tells Juliet that both of their families have secrets in their past.

Shortly after Edward begins staying at the attic, Juliet arrives to find Edward covered in blood with torn clothing. Juliet realizes that the Beast has stuck again. Despite the horror of this, Juliet and Edward become lovers. In the morning however, Juliet regrets her actions of the previous night and tries to explain to Edward that she still loves Montgomery. This causes the Beast to reappear and attack her. Juliet escapes but vows to cure Edward and save him from the Beast.

The night of the Radcliffe masquerade, Juliet and Lucy share the secrets they have both been keeping from one another. Lucy reveals that her father has in his possession, letters with strange information about Juliet's father's research. Since Lucy's father is an investor, Juliet now believes he has been financing her father's research on the island. Juliet reveals to Lucy Henry's identity and origins. The two girls decide to search Lucy's father's study but find little to help them understand further what the connection is between the two men.

It is at the masquerade that the mystery deepens further; Juliet meets Montgomery who explains that he has received notes from both Edward and the Beast stating that Edward wants to find a cure, the Beast is hoping to experience all the "pleasures and pains" of life. While talking with Montgomery, they overhear a conversation between Lucy's father, Radcliffe, and another man which reveals that they know about the existence of Edward and that they are attempting to capture him at the ball.

Juliet and Montgomery are in a race against time to find Edward. For Juliet, time is running out to find a cure for Edward and to save him from both Montgomery and Radcliffe and the King's Club.

Once again, Megan Shepherd has crafted a unique story that takes many of the elements of the classic novel Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde to create completely new story. From this novel, it appears she will then segue into Frankenstein, weaving together a trilogy that encompasses three classic gothic/horror novels.

Both the characters and the storyline are compelling in this novel, as they were in The Madman's Daughter. The forbidden romance between Edward and Juliet is deeply disturbing and not surprisingly, Shepherd continues to develop the love triangle which was hinted at in the first novel, with the reappearance of Montgomery.

The characters of Edward and Juliet are primarily the focus of this novel. It would have been wonderful to see more development of both Lucy and Elizabeth, both of whom are interesting characters. Hopefully we will see more of Elizabeth in the third novel as she appears to be a linking character whose purpose is to transition the storyline into the third novel.

The essence though of Her Dark Curiosity is the relationship between Edward and Juliet and the tension they experience. Edward tries to convince Juliet that he has more in common with her than does Montgomery; that they are both creations of her father and are part animal. This is only partly true, since Juliet is the biological daughter of Dr. Moreau but Edward is made out of animal and human. Edward is referring to the fact that he comes from animal parts while Juliet had animal organs grafted into her. He also suggests that her civilized behaviour is only a veneer that covers the animal inside. This theme is demonstrated using some interesting symbolism in the novel; Juliet's corset becomes a symbol of her civilized side which both Edward and the Beast ask her to remove. This suggests that Edward is not quite so separate from the Beast as he leads Juliet to believe. Juliet's corset is symbolic of the social norms which prevent her from acting on her baser impulses. Once Juliet removes the corset (her civilized nature) she is easily seduced by Edward - in fact quite willingly, despite him being covered in blood after the Beast committed a murder. What kind of woman would make love to a man who has just murdered someone and is drenched in blood?

The title of the novel refers to Juliet's curiosity about herself, but more importantly, about Edward and the Beast. The Beast accuses her of sabotaging her own attempts to develop a cure as a result of her dark curiosity.

"You're dying of curiosity -- that's why some deep part of you is sabotaging any attempts for a cure. You're desperate to know what you'll become, and as far as Edward goes, let's just come out with the truth, shall we: You don't want to cure him, either, not deep down, because the one who fascinates you is me."

Earlier in the novel Juliet demonstrates a dark curiosity about Edward. She is curious about what Edward experiences when he transforms into the beast; what he feels and what he might remember. This curiosity upsets Edward greatly when he sees Juliet's desire to know more because he is repulsed by the Beast and wants to destroy him.

Juliet also recognizes her unnatural curiosity. "A part of me thinks he was right. There is something unnatural about me. I can feel it, deep inside. I don't care for the things other girls do. I'm curious about things I shouldn't be. I'm so fascinated by Father's research that I can hardly stop thinking about it. I feel like a monster for thinking that."

Overall, this novel was engaging with its decidedly gothic tone, but has disturbing elements too. Due to the graphic violence and sexual content of the book, it is recommended for older teens.

Book Details:
Her Dark Curiosity by Megan Shepherd
New York: HarperCollins Children's Books    2014
422 pp.


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