My education in classic horror has been sadly neglected. I never read Frankenstein or The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and only short stories by Poe. That said, these tales have become part of the pop culture lexicon, and I know the important parts of those stories because I’ve seen them reworked in film, comics or in novel retellings. I keep saying I don’t like scary, but I do like dark fantasy, and much of it owes at least of piece of inspiration to the classics. Jessica Verday’s Of Monsters and Madness is a gothic/horror mash-up with a perfectly pitched sense of impending doom.
New York Times best-selling author.
Annabel Lee is summoned from Siam to live with her father in 1820's Philadelphia shortly after her mother's death, but an unconventional upbringing makes her repugnant to her angry, secretive father. Annabel becomes infatuated with her father's assistant Allan, who dabbles in writing when he's not helping with medical advancements. But in darker hours, when she's not to be roaming the house, she encounters the devilish assistant Edgar, who bears an uncanny resemblance to Allan, and who others insist doesn't exist.
A rash of murders across Philadelphia, coupled with her father's strange behavior, leads Annabel to satisfy her curiosity and uncover a terrible truth: Edgar and Allan are two halves of the same person - and they are about to make the crimes detailed in Allan's stories come to life. Unless Annabel stops them.
The year is 1826, and Annabel Lee has lived most of her life in Siam, far from her father’s influence and knowledge. When her father finally sends for her just before her mother dies, Annabel knows she has no choice but to leave her home. When she arrives in chilly, dark Philadelphia, nothing is as she expected. Her father is withdrawn and disproving. Her surroundings are foreign. And there are a rash of unexplained murders occurring nearby. Annabel is determined to earn her father’s approval and learn the mysterious secrets of his house, but she doesn’t count on being attracted to her father’s assistant, Allan, or frightened of his mysterious cousin, Edgar. As sinister happenings strike closer and closer to home, Annabel’s intuition and suspicions will not let her rest until she knows the truth—even if it endangers all she holds dear.
Well! If you’ve read the official synopsis, you should have a pretty good idea of what will happen, and which classic tale the book retells. The story’s surprises weren’t of the plot-twist variety, at least for me. What was compelling about Of Monsters and Madness then? Annabel Lee, of course! She’s an unrepentantly curious character with a strong stomach, a desire to practice medicine, and a history in an entirely different culture. She doesn’t fit the expectations of her sex for the time period or setting, and that causes disorientation and frustration, even though she tries to reign those feelings in. The first person narration allows the reader to see it all through her eyes – and though she worries that she is cold like her father, in fact Annabel feels things deeply. It is that deep feeling paired with curiosity that leads her into dangerous territory – and into the path of Allan/Edgar. While the reader can guess what comes next, Annabel doesn’t know the story, and that makes her vulnerable to it.
But back to the setting: historical! brooding! dangerous! In other words, perfectly gothic, and a great backdrop for a tale of horror. Speaking of horror, I’d say this is on the lighter-ish end of the spectrum, as I wasn’t scared away. Still, there IS gore and murder… so it’s not the book for those who prefer sunshine and happy endings. Though Annabel does seem a bit prone to wander into dangerous situations, her actions are plausible and the set-up works. Another thing to be aware of: this is the first in a new series, and there are a some (okay, several) loose ends and mysteries left for following books.
In all, Of Monsters and Madness is a well-written homage to classic horror, a strong first entry in a new young adult series, and an ideal pick for Halloween reading.
Recommended for: anyone interested in classic horror, dark first-person narratives, historical fiction mashups, and fans of Kady Cross’ steampunk series for young adults.
Would you like a SIGNED copy of the book for yourself? You're in luck! Egmont USA is graciously allowing me to offer one copy to a lucky winner. To enter, simply fill out the FORM. Giveaway open to US/Canadian addresses only, will end on Monday, September 15 at 11:59pm EST. Winner will be selected randomly and notified via email. Good luck!
If you’re interested in learning more about author Jessica Verday and Of Monsters and Madness, check out the blog tour page, and tomorrow’s stops at The Book Monsters and Addicted 2 Novels.
Fine print: I received an ARC of this book for review consideration. Giveaway prize provided by the publisher. I did not receive any compensation for this post.