Mary Jekyll, soon after the death of her mother, receives from the latter’s lawyer a number of papers belonging to her father, who died under mysterious circumstances when she was a child, as well as details of a bank account making payments on behalf of someone named Hyde. Mary recognizes the name as one of her father’s former employees, who was accused of murder and disappeared around the time of her father’s death.
Suddenly left destitute, she takes the information to Sherlock Holmes hoping to claim a reward for the capture of the elusive Hyde. What she finds instead is a previously unknown half-sister, along with more questions about her late father’s involvement with a group called the Société des Alchimistes, or the Alchemist’s Society, that conducted sinister experiments in the name of science.
As she investigates, both on her own and with Holmes, she begins to gather a most unlikely group of acquaintances; young women who, like herself, are the daughters, and sometimes test subjects, of this group of mad scientists. In addition to Diana Hyde, the fourteen year old wild child; there is Beatrice Rappaccinni, whose breath is literally poisonous; Catherine Moreau, a young woman who began life as a puma; and Justine Frankenstein, the incredibly strong but gentle giant of a woman. Together these young women will face dangers that would have most men quaking in fear, and ultimately form an alliance of their own, The Athena Club.
The author of this book used a most interesting device, of having the “characters” chime in from time to time, helping with the narration and arguing how best to tell the story. I found it rather humorous, having various characters argue with Catherine, the supposed writer, but these interruptions assisted in further developing the relationships between the various cast, and bringing to light the story that was being told as if it happened in their not-too-distant past.
This book did contain quite a bit of world-building, as this is the first book in a series, but what a world! Each character, a “self-proclaimed” monster, tells her own story of her father’s experiments which led to her own creation. The setup of all these backstories, however, prove to be integral to the plot of both the book and the series, as much information is uncovered that leads to the circumstances of the “current” murders, taking place in White Chapel, a.k.a. Jack the Ripper. The resolution of the Ripper cases are somewhat secondary to the plot, though, as the ladies and Sherlock agree, the “stranger than fiction” crimes cannot be shared with the public, for the danger it would present to the group.
Though there are elements of the paranormal in this novel, and despite the players, this is not a horror story, but rather chronicles the beginning of a most unusual “club,” the victims and survivors, even if they themselves and others might call them monsters. I award this book four stars, and would recommend it to any readers who love strong female characters, especially those from the Victorian era, as well as fans of Sherlock Holmes-style mysteries, paranormal stories, and urban fantasy.