The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter

A friend of mine got me a copy of The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter by Theodora Goss and the sequel European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman because she thought that I would love them. I’ve finished the first one, and she was so right! I feel like this book was written for me.

The premise is that Mary Jekyll (daughter of Dr. Jekyll) realizes that there are more questions than answers around her father’s death and she finds herself embroiled in a murder mystery along with Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson and an evergrowing cast of daughters of other monstrous men (insert discussion of how Victor Frankenstein may be more of a monster than the creature he created). The book is written by one of the daughters, with comments from all of the others, which I found meta and amusing. Some readers I know may definitely find it too clever by half, though!

I don’t want to say too much—so much of the joy of reading The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter is discovering who the cast of characters includes. Spoilers in the Recommendation section at the end of this review, if you really want to know.

I recommend this series for older readers, mostly because it really helps to have some familiarity with the classics of horror lit—it’s not necessary to have read them all, although it helps to at least have a decent sense of what the stories are about. It’s also on the dark side, in the way that horror and gothic classics often are. What ages that content is appropriate for is totally dependent on the individual kid.

General content warnings in case you don’t want to read the detailed spoilers:

  • The mystery includes young prostitutes murdered and dismembered (it’s not described in detail, but it’s not backed away from either)
  • Young women without resources may find themselves forced to sell their bodies
  • Men in power can convince even our strong heroines that they have no choice but to have sex with them (told in flashback with no detail at all, mostly mentioned obliquely and younger readers may miss it)
  • Fathers, even loving ones, may view daughters as possessions and assets
  • Girls, especially poor girls, are viewed as a commodity to be traded and used by men and women in power. Nearly every one of the daughters is at some point put in danger by a person who feels they have a claim on her, including an abusive and obsessive stalker in one case
  • Asylums, charity homes, and gaols aren’t healthy or nurturing places and the people who run them don’t always have the inmates’ best interests at heart


SPOILER ALERT: Things you might want to know before suggesting this to your kid

True Nature

Can you overcome the nature of your progenitor and your upbringing? That’s a question several of the girls struggle with. The answer is complicated.

One of the characters used to be a puma, although she now looks like a human. Still, she’s a puma in her heart. She eats humans when it’s necessary and doesn’t hesitate to attack with her teeth when threatened. She will kill those who wish to kill her or her friends. She has no problem with nudity and is naked several times over the course of the story. Her morality is not the same as those who were raised human, yet she is accepted by the others.


Several of the girls find strength and solace in their faith and religion. Some do not. They accept the differences, for the most part. The novel itself does not imply a bias one way or the other, by my reading.

No Safety Net

London in the late 1800s has no safety net at all. As Mary runs low on money, she finds herself unable to sell her house or get a job because she’s from the upper class and no one will hire her. The prostitutes who are killed became prostitutes because it was that or starve to death. Two of them had been well-employed governesses, but they were fired unfairly without references and were therefore unable to find other employment. The realities of poverty and how close people, especially women, are to disaster is clear throughout. There is a level of desperation to all of the characters because there is no one to look out for them if things go poorly.


There’s no on screen sex at all in the book, but it’s obviously a part of life. And for women, it’s not always consensual. It buys you no security except maybe relative peace and food for another day. Those who have been sexually active aren’t looked down upon within the text, whether it was their choice or not. There’s a home for “reformed” prostitutes, but the people who run it are…problematic, rather than moral pillars of society.

Violence and Other Illegal Things

It’s a book full of murders and people who view animals and humans—even their children—as less important than their “science.” They don’t hesitate to act violently, and the girls fight back as needed—shooting, kicking, biting, throwing, crushing, poisoning, etc. The girls lie and break into places. Some of them struggle with the morality and the unintended consequences (Beatrice is poisonous and can cause harm without intending to; she kills a dog by accident and is used as a weapon against her will in others. Justine is inhumanly strong and must be careful not to hurt people.) while others simply feel it’s part of their nature and they might as well use whatever they have at their disposal. They often, but not always, feel bad about the people they hurt or whose deaths they arguably helped bring about.


There’s a wide diversity in the personalities, ages, and experiences of the girls, but they learn to mostly appreciate those differences and accept each other as family. Sure, they still drive each other up walls and tease about personality quirks, but they know they’re stronger together and will look out for each other. They become the safety net for each other that each of them was lacking before.

Recommendation (with some spoilers)

Already covered before the spoilers for the most part, but I highly recommend this for people who are familiar with stories such as Frankenstein, “Rappaccini’s Daughter,” The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Dracula, The Island of Dr Moreau, the stories of Sherlock Holmes, etc. (I would add Amazon links, but as these are in the public domain, it’s difficult to determine the quality of the offerings on Amazon.) Knowledge of at least the general plots of the stories is helpful, and in-depth knowledge of having read them recently is rewarded (I think I need to go back and reread a few!). For the most part, a high school English literary background is probably sufficient. I would recommend this for precocious readers who have made a point of reading or exploring the classics and for any older readers who think The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter sounds like fun.

The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter by Theodora Goss
Published in 2017 by Saga Press
First in a series, followed by European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman
A gift from a wonderful friend

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