The Madman’s Daughter is most definitely an adaptation of H. G. Wells’ The Island of Dr. Moreau, as they both contain many of the same scenes and even the same events. However, Megan Shepherd’s decision to use a woman as the main character, and not just any woman but Dr. Moreau’s daughter, changes the entire dynamic of the story. There remains the horror element that occurs when Juliet finally discovers the true nature of her father’s work; many of the characters are also the same. However, it is in the differences that occur specifically because Juliet is the discoverer wherein The Madman’s Daughter escapes from being another adaptation and stands on its own merit.
For one, the conflict between familial love and loyalty versus morality is profound. Juliet cannot absolutely condemn her father for his actions but she cannot approve of them either. There is more at stake here than just her loyalty to her father. This is the absolute adoration that only occurs between a daughter and her father, a bond as unique as it is special, and Juliet’s discoveries test the very fiber of this relationship. The story would not have the same impact had it been Moreau’s son who made the discovery.
Then there is Juliet’s position as an unmarried, penniless young woman without family or friends. She must make decisions based on her tenuous situation and struggle for survival – decisions that men would not have to make. This places her at a unique point in that she does not have many options when she convinces Montgomery to take her with him. Neither does she have many options when she arrives on the island and makes her discoveries. It adds a layer of complexity in that things are not quite as easy as they might initially appear to be.
Not that Juliet is a typical damsel in distress. She may be female, but the male characters in her life severely underestimate her determination, strength, and intellect. She is her father’s daughter in so many ways, including his gruesome fascination with the possibilities of science. That she is not supposed to be interested in such things, let alone capable of comprehending them, is of no consequence in her mind. Part of her interest is to connect with her beloved father, and part of it is more subconscious, more innate than a potential bonding experience. It is what causes much of conflict as she grapples to assuage the guilt associated with knowing that she should completely abhor her father’s deeds but cannot.
The Madman’s Daughter is dark, disturbing, grotesque, and utterly fascinating. The surgical descriptions are gruesome and torturous, almost orgiastic in their animalistic cruelty. Yet, no matter how disgusted a reader becomes, one cannot turn away from the story. Juliet’s simultaneous love for her father and disgust at his actions, once she confirms them, is a fascinating subplot, as is her own macabre fascination with his experiments. Juliet makes a very likable heroine – feisty, intelligent, unafraid, and unwilling to remain bound by society’s impositions on her gender and her past. The bombshell ending, more so than its cliffhanger ending, will leave readers more than a little anxious for Ms. Shepherd to continue the series, as the directions in which the story could go are endless.