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Book Review: "The Daughter of Doctor Moreau" turns sci-fi on its head

The moment I saw Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s upcoming release “The Daughter of Doctor Moreau” on Netgalley, I couldn’t stop myself from requesting to review it. After falling in love with her writing style and imagination in “Mexican Gothic” and “Gods of Jade and Shadow,” it seemed destiny to get my hands on her latest novel, described as historical sci-fi. Although I’m a massive fan of her horror and fantasy novels, I was intrigued by her transition into YA sci-fi and to see if her reimagining of “The Island of Doctor Moreau” held up against her bestsellers.

In 19th century Mexico, Doctor Moreau lives in the Yucatán forest with his obedient daughter Carlota, alcoholic foreman Montgomery Laughton, and his hybrids–a motley crew of part human, part animal experiments created to become hacienda slaves. Their idyllic home is invaded by the abrupt arrival of Eduardo Lizalde, the charming son of the Doctor’s patron, and his cronies. Carlota vows to save her hybrid friends from enslavement, but Moreau’s secrets and growing passions implode their world.

Moreno-Garcia’s characters are often rebellious, young heroines with solid convictions–but Carlota defies the author’s usual route by portraying the obedient, sweet daughter who dreams of falling in love. The rest of the ensemble, including the hybrids, also have distinct, nuanced personalities Moreno-Garcia is known for. Yet, I had few sympathies for Carlota and couldn’t connect with any character on some level for the life of me.

Not to mention, Carlota and Montgomery’s relationship, from her childhood through adulthood, felt like trying to shove two puzzle pieces together that don’t fit. The age gap between them wouldn’t be nearly as strange if their friendship began later. Although Moreno-Garcia keeps it PG between them, the implications and forced awkwardness didn’t do it for me.

Known for her imaginative and lyrical writing style, Moreno-Garcia’s style in this novel doesn’t reach the heights of “Mexican Gothic.” However, it is still a dazzling and rich narration.

In her first science fiction novel, the elements–particularly the hybrids–were intriguing to explore and unlike any other. Despite this, “The Daughter of Doctor Moreau” lacked any tangible suspense or tension, unlike Moreno-Garcia and her work. With an anti-climactic boiling point and minimal emotional connection to the characters, this novel felt like the let-down of the century that had the potential for greatness but crash-landed too early.

Daring, rich, and an intriguing reimagining of a classic, Moreno-Garcia doesn’t reach the wondrous heights her bestsellers have flown to, yet, “The Daughter of Doctor Moreau” is an intriguing twist on the science fiction genre.

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