The Daughter of Doctor Moreau
by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Reviewed by Galen Strickland
Posted July 12, 2022
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Thanks to Net Galley and Del Rey Publishing for an ARC of Silvia Moreno-Garcia's eighth novel, in exchange for an honest review. The Daughter of Doctor Moreau will be released in one week, July 19. It is obviously an alternate take on H. G. Wells' famous novel from 1896, but in a different setting, and with additional characters. Instead of the South Pacific, it is set in a remote region of the Yucatan peninsula, with Part 1 beginning in 1871, then it jumps ahead six years to 1877. There are both fictional people and places, along with references to real-life historical events. The Caste War of Yucatan lasted from 1846 until 1901, when Mexico defeated the Mayan rebels. In Silvia's alternate world perhaps the fate of the Mayans was different, but we don't get that far in the narrative. In addition to centering on Mexican history and culture, Silvia also employs her signature characterization of a young, strong-willed woman, in this case Carlota Moreau, daughter of the reclusive scientist.
We first meet Carlota when she is fourteen years old, on the day her father interviews a man who will become his close associate. In Wells' book his name was Montgomery, the only name given, but it could be assumed that was his surname. Here Montgomery is his given name, his surname a nod to one of the early film adaptations, Laughton. Wells' Montgomery was a former medical student, while Laughton has a general sense of biology due to a former job providing animal and insect specimens for European researchers. The hybrids in the new book are more benign than in the original, and so is Montgomery, and even Moreau up to a certain point. Moreau does his research and experiments at a remote hacienda called Yaxaktun, which may be a variation on Uaxactun, a sacred Mayan site in the northern part of modern day Guatemala, and which is alternately spelled Waxaktun. The hacienda is owned by Moreau's benefactor, Hernando Lizalde, who had recruited Laughton to be Moreau's assistant. Laughton doesn't have a part in the actual medical procedures; he is the majordomo, maintaining the facilities and its security, traveling to obtain supplies, hunting for food, and for live animal specimens for Moreau's work. He has one thing in common with the earlier Montgomery; he is an alcoholic. There is a fifteen year age difference between him and Carlota, and while they become friends, there is also some friction along the way. No romance though, although it is possible that might happen in the future beyond where this book ends.
The major strength of the novel is Carlota, both as a young teen, then later at twenty. Even though she had been isolated at Yaxaktun most of her life, Moreau endeavored to educate her as well as possible, even though her favorite reading was adventurous romance. She has some minor knowledge of her father's work, but wants to know more, and had associated with the hybrids from a very early age, most especially Lupe and Cachito, whom she considered her sister and brother. Other than her and her father, Montgomery, and Ramona, the cook/housekeeper, everyone else at Yaxaktun was a hybrid. Lizalde wanted Moreau to create and breed them to be field workers, especially since many Maya have run away from the plantations, even if they haven't also joined the rebels. Moreau keeps putting off the day he has to relinquish control of the hybrids, explaining that he still has to perfect his techniques and treatments to ensure their good health. One quote from the original book applies to this Moreau: "An animal may be ferocious and cunning enough, but it takes a real man to tell a lie." When several of his lies are revealed, it jeapordizes his standing with Lizalde, the safety of the hybrids, and the safety and respect of his daughter.
There are a few minor things I could nitpick if I cared to, but nothing that hinders the flow of the story, including in several action sequences. Laughton was an alcoholic, with several regretful past experiences, but he takes pride in his work, is loyal to Moreau and Carlota, and steps up in a big way during numerous climactic events. Carlota is occasionally meek, as her father continually told her she should be, but also comes into her own when the chips are down. She not only is loyal to her father, and to the hybrids, they in turn are loyal to her. At least the ones she knows survived. There are others that were successful in their escape, and she has no idea if she, or Laughton, will ever be able to find them again. Even if that never happens, she is set to make the most of her new life, with Lupe at her side. If she can't find and help the hybrids, she will help others in need. Carlota is only twenty-one at the end. I'll be imagining what great things she is able to accomplish in the years ahead. An inspiring, courageous young woman. I feel confident you'll love her as much as I do. It goes without saying, but I'll say it anyway. This is superior to Wells' novel. I never had a doubt that would be the case. Another remarkable achievement by Silvia.
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