Monday, August 25, 2014

Of Monsters and Madness by Jessica Verday

Title: Of Monsters and Madness
Author: Jessica Verday
Release Date:
Sept 9, 2014

Cover Impressions: I like the cover, the image is sufficiently creepy, the colors work well and I like the scrollwork on the bottom (man, I am a sucker for scroll).  But, I don't feel like this is anything too special, I've seen this kind of backlight figure on a hundred scary novels before.
The real reason that I picked this book is because I LOVE Edgar Allen Poe.  I will pretty much read anything that is inspired by his work - even though I am almost always disappointed (I'm looking at you Nevermore and Mrs.Poe)

The Gist:
Annabelle Lee has just lost the only parent she has ever known.  Summoned to her father's house in 1820's Philadelphia, she finds a world if intrigue and murder.  Her father is not at all what she expected, gruff and unwelcoming, he spends most of his time in his laboratory with one of his two assistants: one fair and kind, the other dark and brooding.  As news of gruesome murders creeps closer and closer to their home, Annabelle begins to suspect that the monsters may be nearer than she ever imagined.    


I didn't have the highest of hopes for this book when I requested it, but I will read just about anything that is inspired by Poe.  This predilection of mine has, unfortunately, led to some pretty awful books, but I keep trying because there has got to be one Poe connected book out there to make it all worthwhile.  This, however, is not that book.

Immediately upon starting Of Monsters and Madness I couldn't help feeling like the writing was a little juvenile and eye-roll worthy.  It felt almost like it hadn't been edited carefully.  The first half spent entirely too much time comparing Annabelle's new life to the one in Siam.  If the author didn't feel it was important enough to start the book while she was still living there, why pound us over the head with it every chance she got?  It began to feel like she was saying "look at all this fancy research that I did, I will show you ever fact I learned!"  This interrupted the flow of the writing and annoyed me.

I got the feeling very early on in this novel that Annabelle was going to play the damsel in distress, and I was right.  As a character she was rather bland, despite the author's desperate attempt to make her seem oh-so-special.  From the very beginning, she was a mess of cliches.  We are told that she prefers to wear trousers (though we never actually see this in the rest of the novel), she clearly treats the servants as her equal (like every other heroine in lame historical fiction) and she even meditates.  It really bothers me when authors try to take on a historical setting but give their characters modern sensibilities that are completely out of place in the time frame.  What results, at least in this case, is a character who seems all too perfect.  Other than being completely oblivious to what is right in front of her face, Annabelle doesn't appear to have any character flaws and spends the entire novel desperately trying to please other people.  She is simply too good to be true.  

None of the other characters are even remotely compelling and Poe is set up as the love interest.  There was some chemistry between the two but he was far too pushy for my taste.  On a couple of occasions he insists on being alone with Annabelle despite the social norms of the time that would dictate that there must be a chaperone.  This is one of those triggers for me.  It is not romantic, it simply shows that the character has no concern for his love interest's reputation or her future.  The servants and her grandfather are at least kind, but they don't have anything interesting about them and the father is interesting, but is featured so little that it barely registers.

The biggest issue that I had with this novel came in the very reason that I chose it.  I was looking for a story inspired by Poe, but that was done very poorly.  There were bits and pieces of Poe's work scattered throughout the narrative but their inclusion seemed clunky and awkward.  They appeared completely out of place with the writing style of the author and the scenes that featured them seemed contrived merely for their sake.  To make matters worse, the story was actually a mish-mash of classic horror novels.  It was as if the author a) could not decide whom to emulate and decided to throw them all into one book and let them hash it out or b) could not come up with a unique idea on her own and decided to steal them from the greats instead.  The plot was almost completely predictable and there was no real sense of danger or excitement. 

There was also a strange epilogue that appeared to be tacked on in some odd way of setting this book up for a sequel but I, for one, will not be signing on for that.   

Teaching/Parental Notes:

15 and up
Sex: Kissing
Violence: Murder (not described), Arson, Animal Experimentation
Inappropriate Language: Bastard
Substance Use/Abuse: None

Unanswered Questions:
Does she really not take the scarf off, ever?  Not even to wash it?  Man that thing must reek!


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