YA recommendations with lists, pictures, and frequent parentheticals.
Spoiler Rating: Low
Why hello, DOCTOR Ashers,
Now that you've achieved doctorhood and have absolutely nothing to occupy yourself with (that's how PhDs work, right?), might I suggest that you amble down to your nearest ebook retailer (also how that works, I'm fairly certain) and pick up The Diabolical Miss Hyde by Viola Carr.
This is one of those books that had some not insignificant flaws, but the things it did right were right enough to outweigh those problems.
Magic, mystery, and romance mix in this edgy retelling of the classic The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde—in which Dr. Eliza Jekyll is the daughter of the infamous Henry
In an electric-powered Victorian London, Dr. Eliza Jekyll is a crime scene investigator, hunting killers with inventive new technological gadgets. Now, a new killer is splattering London with blood, drugging beautiful women and slicing off their limbs. Catching "the Chopper" could make Eliza's career—or get her burned. Because Eliza has a dark secret. A seductive second self, set free by her father's forbidden magical elixir: wild, impulsive Lizzie Hyde.
When the Royal Society sends their enforcer, the mercurial Captain Lafayette, to prove she's a sorceress, Eliza must resist the elixir with all her power. But as the Chopper case draws her into London's luminous, magical underworld, Eliza will need all the help she can get. Even if it means getting close to Lafayette, who harbors an evil curse of his own.
Even if it means risking everything and setting vengeful Lizzie free . . .
Some Of The Technology
I'm Not Steampunk's Target Audience
Well, this book is more electropunk (is that a thing?) than steampunk, seeing as how all of the new technology in this Victorian London is powered by electricity. But it's marketed as steampunk, and has all the clockwork gizmos standard in steampunk, so sure, whatever.
Being one of those readers who expects fictional societies to develop in a natural and logical manner (for example, you know, a traditionally misogynistic culture would likely take generations to become truly egalitarian), I tend to itch when I notice something either blazingly wrong or weird and unexplained in the society I'm reading about (say, that traditionally misogynistic culture becoming egalitarian after passing a couple of equal rights laws).
Steampunk doesn't particularly excite me. Yes, I'm far more interested in magic than technology, but I'm also a grump who's studied historical Victorian England, and can't stop myself thinking, That's not right. That's not right either. Holy crap why is she referring to motherhood as a career choice, I can't even.
The Diabolical Miss Hyde did a fair job of keeping my grumpy historian tendencies at bay, overall. I had several rough moments, but only two are really worth mentioning; while I'm willing to suspend my disbelief for most steam- and electrically-powered doodads, I had a hard time with arc-pistols and Hippocrates.
Arc-pistols are, essentially, handheld weapons that shoot electricity.
After being fired, arc-pistols take a short amount of time (several seconds, maybe a minute or two?) to recharge themselves.
I know I'm being too picky, but in a world that was otherwise quite averagely steam(electro?)punkish, this was way too Star Trek for me. I'd love to learn a bit about the arc-pistols and how they recharge themselves so I can at least stop imagining Captain Lafayette strolling around with a phaser at his hip.
As for Hippocrates:
He's something like an automaton dog, but capable of recording sounds, transcribing telegraphs, and—now I'm starting to itch—feel emotion:
Sure, there are automaton servants running their errands, and automaton guards in government buildings, and automaton Enforcers patrolling the streets—but they're all described as emotionless, blank. Hippocrates, meanwhile, exhibits a full range of emotions. The worst part is I have no idea how or why.
And Hipp has absolutely no impact on the plot at all; his only role seems to be Cute Little Sidekick for the first half of the book (he's mostly absent from the second half).
It reminded me—and I'm about to embarrass myself here, talking about this in a public forum—of when I decided that what my vampire novel really needed was a black Great Dane glued to the main character's side, because my Dani was the best dog to walk the earth, and putting her in my dumb novel felt great, never mind that she spent the whole book looking majestic and nothing else. It was self-indulgent of me to write Dani into the story; the story didn't in any way benefit from her presence.
Hipp's only contribution is to make me froth at the mouth over the ambiguous, erratic state of technology in this world.
Other Blips In Logic
It's Not Just The Technology
There were a few other things that struck me as frustratingly illogical, but I'm only going to complain about four of them. The first three are plot-relevant, so I'll be vague.
First: the killer does something that makes no sense, and I strongly believe that the author made them do it to throw Eliza/the reader off the killer's trail a bit. I'm cool with killers throwing people off their trail, but this particular act isn't something this particular killer would decide to do. It reeks of authorial interference.
Second: Lafayette wants something from Eliza, but he goes about getting it in the absolutely dumbest way possible. His method certainly benefits the plot, but doesn't serve his own interests—so his actions, like the murderer's, feel more like authorial interference than something his character would naturally choose to do.
Third (and this will be confusing without context, but bear with me): Eliza needs information that only Lizzie is capable of uncovering—information that could (and she strongly suspects will) condemn Lizzie of a serious crime. So what does Eliza do? She decides to let Lizzie take over and uncover that information. That information that could condemn Lizzie. Eliza's essentially asleep when Lizzie's in control, so Eliza will have to trust Lizzie to (1) actually get the information, and (2) not lie if the information confirms Lizzie committed the crime.
Lizzie is, at this point, nothing if not self-serving and contemptuous of the law. Why on earth would Eliza trust Lizzie to do this?
(And yes, we're told why Lizzie agrees to go get the information, but her motivation makes barely more sense than Eliza's idiotic decision.)
The fourth blip isn't really plot-relevant, so I'll delve right into it.
When the book opens, Eliza's inspecting the corpse of a woman whose legs were cut off above the knee, and discussing the murder with Investigator Griffin:
Can you see the problem here?
Here she's talking with Captain Lafayette, who's come to investigate their investigation:
Three people experienced with murder investigations all look at this legless body, see that it has no gunshot wounds, and decide, Well, either the killer shot at her and missed, or someone else was firing at the murderer.
They're looking for a gunshot wound.
The corpse's legs are missing.
They decide the corpse wasn't shot because there's no gunshot wound.
The corpse's legs are missing.
I found their stupidity so infuriating that I had to put the book down and corner Andrew, whom I complained to for several minutes before I could muster the strength to continue reading.
Sure, perhaps being shot with an arc-pistol damages more than just the body part it's aimed at; maybe if the victim was shot in the leg, the investigators would expect to find telltale marks all over the body. Singed hair, for example—though I wouldn't call that a wound.
It might just be a matter of poor word choice on the author's part. Maybe there really is a legitimate reason for them to agree the legless corpse hadn't been shot in the leg. But I want to know that reason. If I'm not told, I'm going to assume that the author's word choice was deliberate and that these people are idiots who can't fathom that a victim could possibly be shot in the leg.
Which is exactly what I did.
My Attention Wandered
It took me approximately a year (i.e. four days) to read the first quarter of the book. The frustrating technology stuff and the these characters are idiots stuff was just too much for me. "Surely there's something else I need to do," I kept saying, when there was absolutely nothing else I needed to do.
Also, there are two cases of mysterious identity in this book, neither of which were very mysterious. (1) Eliza's unknown guardian was easy to guess even before his first appearance. (2) I correctly pinned the murderer within a couple pages of their first introduction; their identity was obvious enough to me that I didn't find the murder mystery plot compelling. Sure, I was curious to know why they were killing, but it's the whodunit aspect of murder mysteries that keep me reading past my bedtime. I was never compelled to stay up late while reading this book.
Looking for a book that features the seedy underbelly of Victorian London, without romanticizing it? Well, here you go, the first page of the book:
They're Pretty Much Awesome
Sure, the murder mystery wasn't a mystery, and the logic-related issues were burrowing under my skin, but I was totally caught up in the characters. Eliza, Lizzie, Captain Lafayette, and Malachi Todd were all vivid and engaging and wonderful. And they are why I think you'd enjoy this book—a veritable checklist of (well, some of) your favorite character types.
We have proper lady Eliza, who struggles with both her desire to be seen as a respectable woman and to prove to a misogynistic culture that women can be doctors, too. She shies away from impropriety, but is viscerally attracted to a man who's the poster boy of antisocial behavior (and whom she just recently helped the police capture and send to the insane asylum, thereby ending his career as a serial killer).
There's foul-mouthed, sexually-uninhibited Lizzie, who'll use anything at hand—particularly her stiletto and her body—as a weapon against anyone who looks at her twice. She's desperate for her freedom and for any indication that she's valued.
You'll love Captain Lafayette, who's sly and humorous and gentlemanly and fierce.
And oh, man, I adore Malachi Todd, who's the Hannibal Lecter to Eliza's Clarice Starling. (You know The Silence of the Lambs is one of my favorite movies, and the Lecter/Starling relationship is why.) Polite, well-educated, an inmate at the Bethlem Asylum for Paupers and Criminal Lunatics, where Eliza (occasionally?) works.
Just about every character in this book has a distinct voice, has at least some depth, and they all play off each other in enjoyable ways. None of their relationships are simple, but the relationships between those four I named are particularly interesting.
Will I be rereading this book at some point, just to soak in those relationships? Yep.
Plots And Subplots
Now, this point could also be listed as a flaw, but I did genuinely enjoy that there are so many plot threads woven throughout the story. You have the murder mystery, the mystery of Eliza's guardian, Eliza's investigation by Captain Lafayette of the Royal Society (an organization that will torture and burn her if they find out about Lizzie), another murder mystery, the struggle between Eliza and Lizzie—the list goes on. There's a lot happening in this book.
But I'm glad of it because every plot thread influenced the characters' changing perspectives and relationships, and there was plenty to keep me interested when the identity-related mysteries weren't mysteries.
Those threads weren't perfectly balanced—several were barely touched, while others seemed to drag on a bit—and there are readers who'll feel the story was bogged down by it all. But I'm happy to let the less-fleshed-out plot threads pass without comment, because I anticipate they'll be more prominently featured in the sequel, which I will definitely be picking up.
It's not perfect, but I enjoyed it more than I initially thought I would, and I look forward to seeing where the series goes.
Now excuse me, I must away to Netflix; Hannibal Lecter calls.