Latest Reads, Reflections

A Clever Writing Technique by Theodora Goss

I’m a bit of an Anglophile. Technically, I think that I can actually claim to be a citizen of Great Britain due to some of the Queen’s citizenship laws. It’s always fascinated me to see how much of western storytelling revolves around England during the reign of Queen Victoria or King Edward.

I love that time period as fertile soil for good storytelling, and I love it especially much for how well it does with fantasy. I’ll elaborate more on that in another blog post. Today, I wanted to take a moment to share a book that takes place in this time period that really tickled my fancy. That book is The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter by Theodora Goss.

I picked a copy of the book up because it had been labeled a gaslamp fantasy, and as I mentioned, I love that genre. I write in that genre, so I can pass off reading books like that as “professional research” without feeling too bad about it.

The best way I know to describe the story is like a better version of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Goss took several characters in the public domain and took some delightful detours investigating byroads of what might have happened had their stories ended slightly differently.

Of course, adding to beloved characters like Sherlock Holmes or Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde always carries inherent risks. If an author does a poor job she can expect to receive significant backlash or worse, a reader’s apathy. But, Goss does a delightful job. Were there times when I second-guessed whether Sherlock Holmes would have spoken the way he did? Sure, but Goss found a clever means of skirting that obstacle.

Many great authors in the fantasy or paranormal genre from the Victorian time period used techniques that have fallen out of favor with modern readers. Bram Stoker, for example, wrote Dracula exclusively in diary entries from different point-of-view characters. Mary Shelley began her novel, Frankenstein, with a set of letters. This type of writing has its difficulties, principle among them is an effect of distancing a reader from the action.

Goss turns this difficulty to her advantage. Frequently in the book, the main character (who also serves as the narrator/author) and her companions will interject as to whether the story is being written correctly. Can you see the cleverness? This produces a marvelous effect of allowing a reader to excuse discrepancies between our beloved literary characters by passing it off as characterization of the protagonist. The same discrepancies in Goss’ Sherlock Holmes that would be cause for resentment instead turns into an insight into the mind of her main character and narrator.

If that’s not a smart writing technique I’ve never seen one.

The story really is a delight if you’re the type of person who, like me, loves to imagine some mysterious magic holding the cobblestones of London together.

It follows Mary Jekyll, who after stumbling into financial insecurity must set out to discover the true story of her father’s demise and the end of her father’s dubious acquaintance Edward Hyde. Along the way, she meets a wonderful batch of monsters (as they call themselves) and a conspiracy that weaves together plot lines all over the Gothic genre.

If you are looking for a book, check it out, then let me know what you think.

If you’ve already read it, drop a comment below to let me know what you think.

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