Sylvia Moreno-Garcia seems determined to write a book in every sub-genre of science fiction, fantasy and horror. She has taken on vampires in Certain Dark Things, powers in The Beautiful Ones and the gothic tradition in Mexican Gothic. Now Moreno-Garcia takes on and reinvents The Island of Doctor Moreau, one of the slightly less famous books by one of the progenitors of modern science fiction, HG Wells. In the original book, a mad vivisectionist is discovered on a remote island undertaking experiments in which he creates horrifying hybrids. Moreno-Garcia takes the kernel of this idea, transplants it to the Yucatan Peninsula in the late nineteenth century and runs with it.
The action is set in a remote estate on the Yucatan peninsula where French exile Doctor Moreau creates human/animal hybrids. Moreau is financially backed by a wealthy benefactor who believes the hybrids, once successful, can be used as a replacement workforce. Moreno-Garcia’s version of this story is narrated in two voices. Carlotta, Moreau’s eponymous daughter, who was sickly as a child and has lived all of her life on the remote estate. Carlota has helped her father with his research and to care for the disparate group human/animal hybrids that he has created. The second point of view character is Montgomery Laughton, an Englishman who comes to the estate as the new major domo in 1871. The main action is set six years after Laughton’s employment, when the son of Moreau’s benefactor comes to visit and falls for Carlota. Moreau has a plan from her to marry so that his financial future might be secure and she does fall for him. But the imposition of strangers into the world of Yaxaktun leads to a chain of events that can only end in conflict.
Like Mexican Gothic, The Daughter of Doctor Moreau is a slow, atmospheric build with engaging characters in a beautifully described landscape, with some very real historical detail of conflict in the Yucatan baked in to the story. Despite the science fiction trappings this is a book set firmly in a real place and time, shining a light on another aspect of Mexican history and the ongoing impacts of colonisation and its inherent racism.
The seeds of eventual revelations are carefully laid as the tale progresses. This slow build also allows readers to really understand Carlota and Montgomery before the two are put to the test. As with all of Moreno-Garcia’s works, while there is plenty of fantasy and mayhem, it is this central relationship, and all of the heightened attachments between the characters, that drive the story and likely to keep readers hooked.
Moreno-Garcia showed in The Beautiful Ones her love of period tales, although its milieu was slightly more fantastical. In The Daughter of Doctor Moreau she takes a story written in the late nineteenth century and recasts it, reinterprets it, grounds it and in doing so delivers something familiar and classic but at the same time very modern.