The Daughter of Doctor Moreau
A genre-bending and alluring tale of friendship, love, family and enlightenment, while coming of age in a riveting story inspired by the classic H.G. Wells novel: The Island of Dr. Moreau. With elements of speculative fiction, history, horror, and romance – an enchanting narrative unravels in nineteenth-century Mexico.
Expertly interwoven in the background is the historical Caste War of the Yucatan. Providing motivation for some of the events is the revolt of the Maya Indians of the Yucatan against their white oppressors, based upon long simmering animosities against the landowners which wielded debt, violent punishments and discrimination to control them as laborers. The story stands alone, although there are certain similarities to the classic novel, especially the involvement of the brilliant scientist – doctor or madman: Dr. Moreau.
He considers himself surpassing Darwin and his theory of pangenesis, in which particles called gemmules provide the elementary constitution for the organism’s progeny. “I’ve surpassed him, able to look at life and isolate the most basic unit of it and from it build something anew.” His hybrids are the result of his research and work, combining gemmules of two or more animals to make something new. The fact that most are deformed and in pain, while short lived, fails to impress him. Also retained from the original novel is the presence of the doctor’s assistant, Montgomery. Hired as mayordomo, a general caretaker, he also has a tragic past; a wife who has left him because he wasn’t wealthy, and a beloved sister who committed suicide after a miserable marriage. Both having to endure a childhood, with beatings by an abusive and alcoholic father. Dr. Moreau’s patron, Hernando Lizalde, was the owner of Montgomery Laughton’s extensive debt, and thus virtually placed him into the good doctor’s servitude.
The story takes place over a six-year course of time, in which Montgomery serves as majordomo at Yaxaktun, an isolated ranch/ hacienda in the lush jungles of the northern Yucatan peninsula. The narrative unfolds from the points of view of Montgomery and the beautiful, naive, and immensely intelligent daughter, Carlota. The prose is both lyrical and poetic and relentlessly propels the reader into multiple twists and reveals. Montgomery, in spite of his multiple flaws cannot help but empathize with the plight of both Carlota and the hybrids, with their underlying humanity. Carlota has spent her whole life at Yaxaktun and considers it “a beautiful dream and I wish to dream it forever.” Their world comes crashing down when the patron’s charming but careless son Eduardo Lizalde, hot on the trail of rebel Indians, rides into Yaxaktun. He is immediately smitten upon setting eyes on Carlota. With immediate infatuation and talk of marriage, Carlota begins to question her adored father’s motivation, his experiments, and even her own heritage.
Sylvia Moreno-Garcia masterfully crafts an immersive tale, with an intricate plot and a cast of colorful characters, while utilizing evocative prose. The tension and intrigue escalate against the backdrop of the Mayan Indian revolt. Multiple secrets will unfold with unexpected consequences building to an explosive denouement. Explored are the themes of love, family, protecting what you hold dear, as well as the darkness of racism, cruelty, pain, man’s inhumanity and colonialism.
Thanks to NetGalley and Random House Publishing for providing an Uncorrected Proof of this gem in exchange for an honest review. Although this is the fifth Moreno-Garcia novel I’ve read and enjoyed, I must go download her Debut Novel: Signal To Noise.