Novel New Directions: Fresh Takes on the Literary Mashup | RA Crossroads

Begin with Theodore Goss's The Strange Case of the Alchemist's Daughter, a smart, engrossing, and multilayered read in which characters lay claim to both their past and future.
As Lewis Carroll's Alice so aptly points out, "What is the use of a book...without pictures or conversations?" Welcome to Readers' Advisory (RA) Crossroads, where books, movies, music, and other media converge, and whole-collection RA service goes where it may. In this column, literary mashups lead me down a winding path. Begin: Goss, Theodora. The Strange Case of the Alchemist's Daughter. Saga. Jun. 2017. 416p. ISBN 9781481466509. $24.99; ebk. ISBN 9781481466523. FANTASY Fans of historical fantasy, metafiction, not to mention 19th-century genre-defining classics, will be enthralled by Goss's delightful literary mashup. Drawing from Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus, H.G. Wells’s The Island of Doctor Moreau, and Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short story "Rappaccini's Daughter," Goss spins a tale featuring the female progeny of literature's most famous mad scientists: Mary Jekyll, Diana Hyde, Beatrice Rappaccini, Catherine Moreau, and Justine Frankenstein. She also blends in characters from Bram Stoker’s Dracula, as well as Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson as key players. The story revolves around the women, as well as Holmes and Watson, investigating a number of murders targeting London's prostitutes, seemingly gathering specific body parts in the process. Simultaneously, it reveals how the women came to be friends, detailing their backstories. Contributing to the metafictional flourishes is Catherine, who as a novelist in the narrative, pens a draft of Goss’s story while the other women read over her shoulder commenting on her progress. This conceit allows Goss to insert moments of humor and further develop the women's relationships. Smart and engrossing, this multilayered read in which characters lay claim to both their pasts and futures, is richly set against a backdrop of nuanced worldbuilding and literary inventiveness. Read-Alikes: Carriger, Gail. Soulless. Orbit: Hachette. (Parasol Protectorate, Bk. 1). 2009. 384p. ISBN 9780316056632. pap. $8; ebk. ISBN 9780316071659. FANTASY This genre-blending Victorian mix of romance, steampunk, fantasy, and mystery will entertain Goss's readers who might have wanted more beyond the restrained daydreams of Mary Jekyll and Sherlock Holmes, and who particularly enjoyed the wittily caustic intertextual comments of Diana Hyde. Alexia Tarabotti is soulless, which means that the supernatural world around her—full of vampires, werewolves, and ghosts—has little impact on her. She can defang a vamp with a touch and help a werewolf reclaim human form. Her gifts are rather handy but also a bit unfortunate, as, after killing one vampire, she stands accused of doing away with more. Moreover, Hunky werewolf Lord Maccon, sent by Queen Victoria to investigate, seems to be one of the few able to see Alexia's value. Funny and full of banter, Carriger creates a lush alternative London and a winning female lead in this first book in the five-volume “Parasol Protectorate” series. Pulley, Natasha. The Watchmaker of Filigree Street. Bloomsbury USA. 2015. 336p. ISBN 9781620408339. $26; ebk. ISBN 9781620408353. SF Pulley’s debut novel brilliantly mixes genres, chiefly historical fiction with fantasy, adding dashes of steampunk and slipstream. Set in late 19th-century London, during a period of violent plots designed to disrupt the government, the story centers on Nathaniel Steepleton, a telegraphist in the Home Office. His life is orderly and rather dull until a terrorist bomb explodes and he is recruited to spy on Keita Mori, a mysterious watchmaker who crafts wondrous objects and can “remember” the future. Intersecting the lives of both men is Grace Carrow, a scientist studying at Oxford. Soon, all three are caught in a high-stakes game that will change their understanding of the world. Clever, enchanting, and addictive, this novel should please Goss fans seeking other immersive and intriguingly unique tales. Wrede, Patricia C. & Caroline Stevemer. Sorcery and Cecelia or the Enchanted Chocolate Pot. Sandpiper. 2004. 336p. ISBN 9780152053000. pap. $7.99. ebk. ISBN 9781453254677. FANTASY If Jane Austen had written fantasy novels she might have dreamed up this delightful tale. Cousins Kate and Cecelia live in a magical version of Regency England—Kate taking part in the London Season, and Cecelia at her country home. They exchange letters detailing their days and encounters, and soon it becomes clear that both are entangled in a supernatural battle. Fans of The Strange Case of the Alchemist's Daughter will appreciate the imaginative worldbuilding of this fantasy/romance charmer that not only features women who take care of themselves and each other, but is also told in epistolary form. Wrede and Stevemer's focus on the writing process nicely links with Goss's metafictional approach. The literary nod to Austen, while not as overt as in The Alchemist's Daughter, also creates a welcome connection. Read-Arounds: Moore, Alan (text) & Kevin O’Neill & others (illus.). The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Vol. 1. DC. 2002. 176p. ISBN 9781563898587. pap. $16.99; ebk. ISBN 9781401236618. GRAPHICS NOVELS Long before Goss set her Victorian women to the page, Moore had explored the idea in his comics, peopled with Victorian-era characters taken from classic genre fiction. Two of Moore's characters overlap with those in The Alchemist's Daughter: Mina Harker (née Murray), and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Others on the team include Captain Nemo (created by author Jules Verne), Allan Quatermain (from H. Rider Haggard's adventure novels such as King Solomon's Mines), and H.G. Wells's Griffin, aka the Invisible Man. In Moore's violent, action-filled, and dark tale, the characters join forces to stop a threat to the British Empire. O’Neill's artwork is visually arresting, rendered in dark smoky colors and laid out in panels overflowing with abundant detail. The panoramic layouts provide a sense of vastness to Moore and O'Neill's elaborate universe. Additional literary allusions flowing from the pages include references to an ancestor of James Bond and a character created by Virginia Woolf. Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft (text) & Bernie Wrightson (illus.). Frankenstein. Dark Horse. 2011. 256p. ISBN 9781595822000. $34.99. Stoker, Bram. The New Annotated Dracula. Norton. 2008. 672p. ed. by Leslie S. Klinger. ISBN 9780393064506. $39.95. LIT Suggesting readers delve into the literary base material of Goss's book is a good option for suitable read-arounds. With more than seven sources used in The Alchemist's Daughter, it makes sense to offer a range of formats. In addition to the excellent audiobooks below, consider these two enhanced editions of Frankenstein and Dracula. Wrightson's finely illustrated edition of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley's 1818 novel (with full text) features 47 black-and-white renderings that extend the grip of the story, adding even more pathos and horror, creating a powerful, dramatic, and compelling reading experience. The New Annotated Dracula offers illustrations as well but layers on top of Stoker's narrative fascinating notes, references, and explanatory asides. Editor Klinger explores the novel's themes and subjects, presenting a deep dive into its multiple aspects. Listen-Arounds: Doyle, Sir Arthur Conan. A Study in Scarlet and the Adventure of the Speckled Band. 5 CDs. 6 hrs. Tantor. (Sherlock Holmes). 2009. ISBN 9781400115136. $17.99. MYS Masterly narrator Simon Prebble is a perfect match for the beloved Sherlock Holmes. The detective's first case, A Study in Scarlet is a tale of long-simmering hate, involving the discovery of a corpse and the puzzle of a woman's wedding ring. Prebble creates an assured, acute Holmes and a vibrant Watson via shifts in tone, accent, and volume. He ably traverses the story and brings readers along with him as the action shifts from London to the American West. Listeners meeting Holmes for the first time will not find a more solid guide than Prebble. The Adventure of the Speckled Band involves murder for money, a ramshackle estate, and more of Holmes's fine observations. Stevenson, Robert Louis. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. 3 CDs. 2.93 hrs. Blackstone Audio. 2010. ISBN 9781441711724. $19.95. Martin Jarvis pulls off another of his wonderful performances in this rendition of Stevenson's classic story. Dr. Jekyll, interested in the nature of man, performs experiments on himself, revealing his darker side, Mr. Hyde. At first, Jekyll is able to control Hyde, but soon Hyde takes up the reins of power, threatening Jekyll's very existence. Jarvis finely characterizes each figure and adds suspense and drama to the story with shifts of tone and pace. He carries the reader through Stevenson's prose, wringing from each line every connotation, layering the already moody tale with more feeling. A quick listen and a fine way to experience this classic story. Watch-Arounds: The film and TV versions of Dracula, Frankenstein, Sherlock, and more, offer further extension of The Strange Case of the Alchemist's Daughter. To branch out beyond pure adaptations, consider these two films: one features sf novelist H.G. Wells in connection to Jack the Ripper, and the other offers a brilliant yet unusual riff on the idea of the literary mashup. Enchanted. color. 107 min. Kevin Lima, dist. by Disney. 2008. $9.99. DVD UPC 786936716023. ANIMATION Switching gears completely, this film uses Disney princess movies as its source material, mashing up Snow White, Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty (plus more) into a fairy-tale film that sees Princess Giselle (Amy Adams) transported from a happy-ever-after setting into the harsh realities of New York City. However, the real world does have some supernatural elements to hand: animals continue to serve as aides, true love's kiss still wins the day, and the evil Queen Narissa (Susan Sarandon), with murder in mind, consistently keeps tabs on Giselle's adventures. Patrick Dempsey stars as the charming divorce lawyer who helps Giselle. Critics and audiences were delighted with the music and exciting mix of animation and live action; earning the film multiple award wins and nominations. Time After Time. color. 107 min. Nicholas Meyer, dist. by Warner Brothers. 2008. Boxed DVD UPC 883929030835. $14.97. SF/TIME TRAVEL Released in theaters in 1979, this sf film sees H.G. Wells time-traveling from Victorian London to the 20th century in pursuit of Jack the Ripper. Malcolm McDowell stars as Wells, David Warner plays surgeon John Leslie Stevenson (aka the Ripper), and Mary Steenburgen plays a modern-day woman who falls for Wells and is on the killer's list of victims. For fans of Goss, this film blends iconic sf, the fictionalized life of its author, and the true crime account of a famous string of murders (which Goss clearly uses as a model in her novel). Viewers get the fun of the literary cross-pollination, the shivers of a murder thriller, and the appeal of time travel. The film garnered critical praise upon its release and has remained a cult favorite for decades.

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