The Daughter of Doctor Moreau is the latest novel from award winning fantasy author Silvia Moreno-Garcia. Known for her weird but beautiful writing, I think that The Daughter of Doctor Moreau should appeal to fans of her earlier gothic horror novel Mexican Gothic and readers who enjoy traditional gothic fiction.
Inspired by H.G. Wells’ The Island of Doctor Moreau, there are some parts of the plot of The Daughter of Doctor Moreau that are unsurprising if you know Wells’ work. The reclusive Doctor whose scientific experimentation with creating human and animal hybrids plays a pivotal role in Moreno-Garcia’s novel. There is also a Montgomery figure in The Daughter of Doctor Moreau and some of the hybrid characters bear a physical resemblance to the Beast Folk described in The Island. However; that is where the similarities end and Moreno- Garcia’s delicious reimagining is a lush novel with its own original characters and new plot.
The Daughter of Doctor Moreau is a standalone story which reads more like a classic gothic novel rather than a modern fantasy. If I had to put a specific speculative fiction label on it, I would say it is a historical science fiction novel. The first two sections are a slow burn, building the setting in the late 19 th century Yucatan peninsula, and introducing the titular daughter, Carlota, and the mayordomo, Garcia-Moreno’s version of Montgomery. Well- paced for the remainder, the novel alternates between the perspectives of Carlota and Montgomery and spans from 1871 to 1877. I enjoyed the narrative shifts and the contrast between Carlota’s sheltered, youthful naïveté, and Montgomery’s mature and cynical outlook. The hybrid characters in The Daughter of Doctor Moreau are named, and form a large part of the supporting characters which helped me to sympathise with them instead of appearing as mindless background figures. The ‘found family’ element to the novel between some of the hybrids and Carlota and Montgomery was my favourite part of The Daughter of Doctor Moreau.
The dark part of The Daughter of Doctor Moreau does not come from any graphic or explicit parts of the novel or any overall sense of foreboding. For me the darkness comes with the Big Questions the reader may have to address whilst reading. In between reading chapters of the novel, I found myself not wondering about the characters and what might happen next, but more thinking about the morality of the events or trying to define the rights and wrongs of what had been revealed. Moreno-Garcia’s writing is stunning, as I expected from her, but I would have enjoyed more of the vivid horror I found in her other works. The historical setting is superb, but the science fiction elements play less of a part in the novel than I anticipated and are overtaken by Carlota’s coming of age narrative and the romantic aspects of the story.
I have a feeling that The Daughter of Doctor Moreau may be a divisive novel and readers will either love or loathe it, though I did not connect with it as well as I had hoped. I still love Garcia-Moreno’s writing style and will continue to read her work, but The Daughter of Doctor Moreau is not one I feel the need to reread or to shout from the rooftops about. Objectively this is a good novel – it is very well written, has solid characters, an engaging plot, and poses some ethical conundrums.
I would like to say thank you to Silvia Moreno-Garcia and the team at Jo Fletcher Books for sending over an ARC of The Daughter of Doctor Moreau so that I could review it for Grimdark Magazine. 3/5