Tuesday, December 1, 2015

A Cold Legacy by Megan Shepherd

A Cold Legacy continues the saga of Juliet Moreau, this time incorporating elements of Mary Shelley's classic novel,  Frankenstein.

On the run, after killing three members of the King's Club who intended to use her father's research for evil, Juliet seeks shelter at Elizabeth Von Stein's estate, Ballentyne Manor.

For three days Juliet, accompanied by her fiance Montgomery James, her friend Lucy Radcliffe, and her father's creations, Balthazar and Edward Prince, flees into the moors. Edward lingers between life and death after poisoning himself with arsenic. Despite Montgomery's administering of an antidote, Edward continues to suffer from and high fever and remain unconscious.

The four travelers are resting at an inn when they encounter a traveling carnival troupe. One man insists on reading Juliet's fortune and unnerves her by quoting her father's favourite saying. Later that night four British police officers show up at the inn questioning the staff. This forces them to quickly leave and head through the village of Quick and onto Ballentyne.

At Ballentyne they are met by Valentine who is second in change behind the housekeeper McKenna and whose strange hands Juliet immediately notices. Valentine is unwelcoming despite a letter of introduction from Elizabeth, stating that Juliet is her ward. However McKenna offers them rooms and Edward is placed in a separate room without a fire and with a lock on the door. Valentina tells Juliet that Ballentyne has three floors and two towers, one in the southern wing and one in the north. The north tower contains Elizabeth's observatory. The second floor contains the guest bedrooms and a library, while the servant's rooms are located on the third floor. The estate has electricity supplied by a windmill. Valentina teaches the young servant girls who live on the estate.

Despite their engagement, Juliet and Montgomery are struggling in their relationship. Montgomery worries about Juliet's obsession with her father's research and her apparent ease in killing the King's Club men. That night Juliet meets Hensley, a young boy who McKenna identifies as Elizabeth's son who wanders through the house's many hidden tunnels and passageways. Edward regains consciousness and tells Juliet and Lucy that he is unable to fight off the Beast taking over his personality. He tells them that the Beast discovered that he was created through a mistake by Juliet's father resulting in damage to the reptilian portion of his brain. The only way to cure him is to remove that part of his brain.

The next day Juliet and Lucy walk into Quick to order Juliet's wedding dress. In Quick Juliet discovers a newspaper article written by Lucy's father, John Radcliffe, who was the King's Club's financier. Radcliffe seems to be concerned about his daughter's disappearance. Juliet sends Lucy on her way home, wishing to walk back to Ballentyne alone. On the way she becomes trapped in a bog attempting to rescue a sheep but is saved by Elizabeth who is returning to Ballentyne.

Back at Ballentyne, Elizabeth reveals to Juliet that she intends to make Juliet her heir, giving her title to the estate.She also tells Juliet that Hensley who is her son, is not fit to manage the estate. Elizabeth tells Juliet, Lucy and Montgomery  that there is a one thousand pound reward for the capture of Juliet, who is wanted for murder. She assures Juliet that they are safe at the manor since its location is unknown to the local police and is not in her family name. Hoping Elizabeth can help Edward, Juliet reveals what he told her but Elizabeth tells Juliet that there is no way to help him.

On the festival of Twelfth Night, Juliet once again encounters the carnival troupe. The fortune teller reveals his name to be Jack Serra and he tells Juliet that her path.... At the festival Juliet has the opportunity to check out Valentine's unusual hands and realizes that they may have been transplanted by Elizabeth. Valentine reveals that Elizabeth has cured many people of "ailments" including missing limbs like Valentine's. Valentine also reveals the depth of her animosity towards Juliet for being named Elizabeth heir. The truth of Hensley is also exposed when he is impaled in the chest by a tree branch and survives.

Montgomery, realizing that Elizabeth is using Victor Frankenstein's science to regenerate dead people, attempts to convince Juliet to leave the manor.  She refuses but promises him she will try to be like her kindly mother and act for good. After tending to Hensley, Elizabeth tells them the truth about Hensley. It turns out Victor Frankenstein's work has been carefully preserved over the past generations through his journals which are known as the Original Journals. Elizabeth's family came to own the journals after the daughter of a Ballentyne lord gave birth to Victor Frankenstein's illegitimate child in 1786. The journals contain all the information necessary to "reanimate" or bring back to life a person. Hensley is revealed to be Thomas, the professor's son who died and who he brought back to life at Ballentyne. Although Hensley is now forty-one years old, he has the mind and body of a child but has enormous strength and cannot die.

Elizabeth believes the King's Club at least suspects that they have the knowledge of reanimation but Juliet believes that based on Radcliffe's letter to the newspaper this is no longer a concern. Montgomery wants the Frankenstein research destroyed, but Elizabeth insists that since she has operated on all the Ballentyne servants they are all loyal. She has taken the Oath of Perpetual Anatomy and she has named Juliet as her heir so as to pass on this knowledge. But this upsets Montgomery to whom Juliet has promised she would not practice Frankenstein's science. To convince Juliet, Elizabeth shows her how to bring back to life a dead rat.

Things begin to unravel however when Valentina runs away with the intention of telling the police where Juliet and her acquaintances are hiding. Montgomery, Juliet and Balthazar track Valentina and eventually catch up to her but she is killed when the hackney coach overturns. Before she dies they learn that she was to meet secretly with an unknown person near Inverness. Juliet and Montgomery discover the person Valentina was to meet is none other than Lucy's father, John Radcliffe.  Barely escaping back to Ballentyne, with Montgomery wounded Juliet discovers the manor in chaos as the Beast has taken over Edward.

Juliet must now save Ballentyne from both the Beast and John Radcliffe. Can she do so and still remain faithful to her promise to Montgomery not to continue Victor Frankenstein's dark science begun so many years ago?


In some ways A Cold Legacy is a fitting finale to the the Madman's Daughter trilogy by Shepherd. The loose ends are tied up and the conflict within Juliet is finally resolved. In this novel, Shepherd explores themes about life and death.

Juliet struggles with whether or not she should continue to dabble in the strange scientific endeavours her family and those connected to her seem to be involved in. In this case, Elizabeth Von Stein, who has taken in Juliet and her friends, has recreated the methods of Victor Frankenstein. His discoveries have lead to the "reanimation" of dead people - that is he brings dead people back to life. The catch is that they are inhumanly strong and immortal. The major issue for Juliet is whether being her father's daughter means she is susceptible to his immoral use of science.  She believes her intense scientific curiosity and the desire for revenge against her father and the people seeking to misuse his discoveries mean she is more like him.

Juliet confesses to Montgomery that "Bringing the creatures to life, letting them slaughter those men...I enjoyed it...The justice of it.The power of it." When Lucy approaches Juliet about bringing back Edward Juliet struggles with her promise to Montgomery and her desire to fulfill what her father has stated is her destiny - to do something remarkable like "defeating death to a save a life."  She admits "Since I'd first learned about Frankenstein's science, since I'd first seen Hensley brought back to life. My father's spirit was in my veins, urging me to do this." She feels compelled by her father's legacy to continue down the path of doing exotic but morally questionable scientific research. Juliet believes that since bringing Edward back is her "heart's true desire" she should do so and when she accomplishes this, she feels she's done the right thing.

Gradually Juliet comes to the realization that she is not her father. Jack Serra/Ajax points out to her she is not cruel but he notes she has been trying to use the science to help people. "But you aren't like him...It wasn't your own fate you were most worried about, but that of your sick friend. Henri Moreau never once cared about anyone but himself. He turned to darkness for his own selfish reasons. You were drawn to the darkness, but that wasn't what made up your mind. It was the hope of saving a friend's life." This is why he has decided not to destroy her but to help her against Radcliffe.

Although Montgomery is horrified that she has brought back Edward, Juliet points out to him, "I didn't bring Edward back to serve some purpose. He's a person. A friend. I brought him back because he had been wronged, and I had the power to help him." 

Montgomery also tells Juliet that should he not survive the fight with Radcliffe he does not want her to bring him back. "I don't care if it works or not. " I want to know that this life is the only one that matters. When you can never die, do you ever really live?" He tells Juliet he wants only one life with her. This ultimately influences Juliet's decision regarding Lucy who is shot by her father. She realizes Lucy's life was a full one, lived on her own terms. "Lucy's life had been short, but she'd lived it well. She had chosen her own fate, bleak though it was."

This causes Juliet to reconsider reanimation in light of the consequences it has not only for science but for the individuals involved.  "I had the power to cure death, but what had new life brought to Hensley, or Frankenstein's monster, or Edward? Only more pain."

The end result is that this leads Juliet to understand how dangerous the knowledge might be in the wrong hands and she becomes determined not to allow John Radcliffe to learn about Victor Frankenstein's discoveries, even if it means they are lost forever and even if it means she must die to accomplish that task.

The science is sketchy at best in A Cold Legacy; the idea that you can simply plunk the eye of a cadaver into the eye socket of a living person and it works, or remove a piece of the brain from a dead person and place it into another dead person and it functions after running an electrical current through the body are at best amusing. But this is Gothic horror rebooted and its fun, campy and suspenseful. There are plenty of dead bodies despite a young woman

There are plenty of plot holes in A Cold Legacy. For example, just after Elizabeth reassures Juliet that no one knows the existence of the manor (which has electric lights that would likely be visible over the moors), the reader learns that all of the town of Quick knows about the manor but are faithful to its secret location. 

Overall, A Cold Legacy, with its lovely modern gothic cover is an enjoyable read and a fitting conclusion to Shepherd's trilogy.

Book Review:

A Cold Legacy by Megan Shepherd
New York: Balzer & Bray          2015
390 pp.

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