Desert Isle Keeper
The Daughter of Doctor Moreau
Romance, mystery, and monsters combine to give us a compelling look at the human heart in The Daughter of Doctor Moreau. Those familiar with the classic H.G. Wells novel, The Island of Dr. Moreau, will find many of these characters familiar, although hearing the tale from Carlota’s viewpoint – along with the new setting – gives us a riveting, unique read.
Many find the Yucatán peninsula, with its Mayan rebels, dense jungle, and menacing wildlife a dangerous place. To fifteen-year-old Carlota Moreau, it is home. The only daughter of an eccentric researcher, she is used to a lonely existence with just her father, the housekeeper Ramona and her young servants, Lupe and Cachito, for company.
When the story begins, all four of the above people are anxiously awaiting the arrival of Montgomery Laughton. He is the one man among the many candidates who have applied for overseer at Yaxaktun, their hacienda, that her father has approved of. Mr. Laughton is being escorted to their home by Hernando Lizaldes, the wealthy sponsor of the research done by Dr. Moreau. For the young people at the ranch, this is a major event – they never leave the house or have the chance to meet any strangers.
It is Carlota who escorts their guests around the house and proudly shows them through her father’s laboratory. And it is Carlota who shares with Cachito and Lupe the secret she found in Dr. Moreau’s workshop. She is the one who later escorts her two young friends into the forbidden room which houses the ugly mystery the doctor shares with few. But it is Lupe who frees it from its cocoon – and Montgomery Laughton who is forced to kill it when it proves to be quite hazardous to all of them.
Montgomery’s quick and efficient handling of that situation lands him the job of majordomo of Dr. Moreau’s bizarre and perilous home. He settles into the position as comfortably as an alcoholic adjusts to any new experience, especially one as weird as this one. For six years, everything is relatively calm and peaceful. Then visitors shatter their quiet – and things the good doctor had meant to keep hidden forever break through the superficial allusion of calm that has lain over the dark secrets of the hacienda.
If you have read The Island of Dr. Moreau – or the blurb for this book – you will already know about one of the mysteries that is the underpinning of this story. If you haven’t read either of those, I would urge you not to – Ms. Moreno-Garcia’s lyrical prose does such credit to the storytelling behind the enigmas that it is almost better to go in completely unaware of what is happening.
The centerpiece of any good gothic is the setting and Yaxaktun with its chilling, atmospheric, desolate, and dangerous location is perfect. From the moment the tale begins, we are transported to an other-worldly, sinister locale where danger seems to lurk in the very air, and the author does a fantastic job of transfusing a lurking foreboding into every moment of her text. Even when nothing overtly strange is happening, there is this lingering, delicious sense of impending doom that seems to hover over the ranch and its inhabitants, waiting for its moment.
The second most important factor to any gothic is the heroine, and Carlota is a fantastic one. When our narrative first starts, she is sweet and naïve; she’s got a good heart but her love for her father has mostly blinded her to reality. As the story progresses, she becomes more and more aware of the truth regarding her dad, his laboratory, and life at Yaxaktun, growing strong, resourceful, and resilient as she grows in knowledge. I loved watching Carlota’s transformation from girl to woman and seeing her become the best version of herself.
Montgomery Laughton is a more nuanced character from the start. We know he is at heart a decent and brave man but he is also caught up in what drink and a tough life have made him into. He’s morally ambiguous, someone willing to turn a blind eye to bad things, but he’s also kind and caring. He develops feelings for the much younger Carlota, but keeps them in check, convinced she deserves much better than him. He is also a romantic at heart, unwilling to have a relationship with the young woman unless she can love him as much as he loves her. While I am typically very disturbed by an older man who falls for a girl he’s known since she was an adolescent, oit is well handled here. I wouldn’t have mentioned it since it is technically a spoiler but I wanted to advise readers sensitive to this subject matter of its presence.
This is a tale about monsters but not so much the terrors that lurk around the hacienda so much as the horrors that walk on two legs and call themselves human. The story takes a look at how the wealthy European ranch/farm owners treat everything around them – the Mayan workers, the animals in the jungle, and the land itself – with equal portions of proprietorship and disdain. It also examines how religion can be used to underpin control, especially over women and the working class. The author does an absolutely magnificent job with all of this – she never once devolves into lectures espousing her points but instead allows her expert storytelling to show us these problems and let us draw our own conclusions.
The Daughter of Doctor Moreau is superficially a gothic/sci-fi/horror/action-adventure retelling of a literary classic but below the surface is an absolutely fascinating look at the human heart and the history of colonialism. I would recommend it to anyone looking for a good book that is as thought-provoking as it is entertaining.
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I've been an avid reader since 2nd grade and discovered romance when my cousin lent me Lord of La Pampa by Kay Thorpe in 7th grade. I currently read approximately 150 books a year, comprised of a mix of Young Adult, romance, mystery, women's fiction, and science fiction/fantasy.