The Sinister Mystery of the Mesmerizing Girl

By Theodora Goss

Rating: 5 stars

Picking up right from where the last book left off, this volume sees the Athena Club rush back to England to try and find and rescue one of their own and in the process they uncover a larger plot that threatens the throne itself.

While I had some problems with the previous book in the series, this more than made up for them. It’s tight, tense and terrific. The interruptions from the other Athena Club members into Catherine’s writing process are much less irritating than the previous volume (although there are some adverts for previous books, Mary clamps down on that) and they’re now something I looked forward to rather than sometimes groaned at.

I love all the members of the club, they’re great characters (I think Diana has become my favourite), and although we got to spend more time with Alice this time round, the newest member, Lucinda gets little to do, which is a shame. It would have been nice to spend longer in the head of someone who’s just starting out on her journey as a vampire and is still trying to figure it out.

I’ve read a number of books recently where the villain’s motivation is plain racism. I find that particularly difficult to read, but it’s important – Moriarty’s way of thinking in this book is gaining far too much ground in the real world, and anything that can remind people that it’s not a sensible and acceptable way of thinking is to the good. I was very glad to see the Golden Dawn (urgh) get their comeuppance here.

The one thing that didn’t quite work, I thought, was the climax – the fight with Queen Tera. I thought all the members of the club were caught and held too easily, and then the way that Laura calmly shot her and got Diana to saw her head off was unpleasant. I do think that Goss could have spent more time both with the climax itself, and with the aftermath.
After cutting someone’s head off with a knife, Diana calmly goes back to eating jam roly-polys, apparently without a care in the world. But killing someone isn’t something that can be shrugged off that easily, especially in such a grisly fashion. I would have liked to have seen more fallout from that. Yes, she’s Edward Hyde’s daughter, but I’d still have liked to have seen how she felt after doing the deed. Or at least the reaction to the other Club members when they learned what she’d done.

I’d drop half a star for the grumble in the spoiler, but still round it up, ending the trilogy on a high note.

Book details

ISBN: 9781534427884

Snow White Learns Witchcraft: Stories and Poems

By Theodora Goss

Rating: 4 stars

I picked this collection up after reading the Athena Club books by the same author, which I thoroughly enjoyed. This collection has a very different feel to it. While the Athena Club is set in Victorian London, these are retellings and reinterpretations of fairy tales, bringing the women in them to the fore.

Some worked better than others for me, and there were some that I enjoyed, but don’t know the underlying story. Goss is originally from Hungary, and I think several Eastern European tales or variants made their way in to the collection (for example, there were several stories referring to the bear’s wife, but my google-fu failed me on that one).

I often have trouble with poetry, but I’m pleased that the poetry presented here isn’t as dense as some and was often quite prose-like, so I was able to read it almost like a prose story. Of the stories, I think I enjoyed Blanchefleur the best. Again, I’m not sure I recognise the specific story that it came from, but it had the structure and feel of a fairy tale. And it was a love story, which I’m always a sucker for. The Other Thea is a lovely story about wholeness and belonging; while A Country Called Winter about a refugee who makes startling discoveries about her family and her home.

I enjoyed this collection a lot and will certainly look out for more of Goss’s short fiction (as well, of course, as the next ‘Athena Club’ book!)

Book details

Publisher: Mythic Delirium Books
Year of publication: 2017

European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman (The Extraordinary Adventures of the Athena Club, #2)

By Theodora Goss

Rating: 4 stars

In the second of the Athena Club’s intrepid adventures, they receive a message from a Miss Van Helsing asking for help as her father, a member of the Society of Alchemists, has been experimenting on her and her mother.

I don’t think this book was quite as engaging as The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter. It’s a big book and I don’t think it was as tight as its predecessor. Some scenes could have been cut with minimal effort and, I think, to the benefit of the overall story.

We encounter many more fictional characters in this book, as well as the return of several from the previous. The most notable new characters are the cast of Dracula, although in very different roles to what Stoker’s book portrays with Abraham Van Helsing very much cast as chief villain. Some other characters, especially in the hook for the next in the series, were pretty obscure. I had to google the Raymonds (apparently from a novella I’ve never heard of called The Great God Pan) and that will be important to the next one. I missed Holmes in this one, and kept expecting minor characters who turn up to be him in disguise, and disappointed when they weren’t.

I found the interjections from the various members of the club into the book somewhat more irritating this time around. Nearer the start, it was quite frequent and distracting from the story. Later on, the frequency of the interjections dropped and they became enjoyable again – sometimes interjecting with snarky comments and sometimes dropping in some exposition in without being too clunky. But at the start, they are overused and irritating (and the repeated ‘adverts’ for the previous book soon become wearing, after the first couple of times).

That all feels a bit negative, so it’s important to be clear that I still enjoyed this book a lot and will look forward to the next volume. The members of the Athena Club are all really interesting and fun characters, whose distinct personalities all shine. I very definitely care about all of them (yes, even Diana).

— UPDATE JULY 2021 —

Rereading the series again, I feel I was definitely too harsh on this book. The interjections from the cast were never less than charming, and the adverts for the previous book were many fewer than I remembered, and not nearly as annoying as I remembered. I can’t remember why I felt that it was looser than its predecessor. Although I can still imagine it being cut into two books, this time round, I think the two sections work well together, flowing from one into the other. No hesitation in upgrading the score from 3 to 4 stars.

Book details

ISBN: 9781534437258
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Year of publication: 2018

The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter (The Extraordinary Adventures of the Athena Club, #1)

By Theodora Goss

Rating: 4 stars

After the death of her parents, Mary Jekyll is broke, but her mother’s papers indicate her father’s associate, and wanted murderer, Edward Hyde, may still be alive. Fired with the idea of claiming the reward for his capture, with the help of Sherlock Holmes, she goes after him. Instead she finds his daughter, Diana. Together, they delve deeper into a mystery that leads them to other unusual, indeed, some might say, monstrous, women and a secret society whose members will stop at nothing to get what they want.

I really enjoyed this adventure, which could have just as easily been entitled The League of Extraordinary Gentlewomen, as it brings together various fictional women from gothic fiction. The author, in a piece on John Scalzi’s blog describes having been struck with the thought that female monsters in that sort of fiction always die. But what happens if the puma woman escaped Moreau’s island; if Rappaccini’s daughter didn’t die of the poison antidote; or if Frankenstein didn’t actually destroy the bride he created for his monster. This book is the fruit of that rumination, and it’s a huge amount of fun.

The book is told as Mary Jekyll’s story, but the other characters are, in no way, diminished because of this. They each get their own chapter telling of their origin story but are present in another way as well. The author uses the device that the story is being written by Catherine Moreau, but, being annoyed at the interruptions of the others, leaves their interjections in place in the text. For the first few pages, this was annoying, but it soon became very much part of the narrative, and I started to thoroughly enjoy the interruptions. Each of them has a very distinct voice and it’s a nice way to get additional points of view into the story, where appropriate. This device does, however, mean that the tension is lessened a bit, since we know that all the characters survive to the end, but that’s a minor issue and one that doesn’t bother me.

I really liked all the characters, their individual stories and the mystery that brought them all together. The story moves at a rapid pace and is very readable. I can’t wait to read more adventures of the Athena Club.

Book details

ISBN: 9781481466516
Publisher: Gallery / Saga Press
Year of publication: 2017

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