Of Monsters and Madness by Jessica Verday

of monsters and madness by jessica verday Of Monsters and Madness by Jessica VerdayBuy Of Monsters And Madness
Special price $14.29 Regular price: $17.99
Publisher: Egmont USA
Format: Hardcover
Reviewer: Melissa on April 7, 2015
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Summoned to her father’s home in 1820s Philadelphia from her home in Siam (known in the readers’ time as Thailand), Annabel Lee – one of Edgar Allan Poe’s characters – finds herself in the midst of a rash of gruesome murders. As the bodies begin piling up, Annabel comes upon information that suggests her father is implicated in the violence. Torn romantically between her father’s assistants – one named Allan Poe, who is kind and proper, and the other, his cousin Edgar Poe, who is mysterious and brooding – who share a dark secret that may show they have more to do with the violent events than they’re telling Annabel. In Jessica Verday’s Of Monsters and Madness, readers are in for a romantic, historical re-imagining of classic, American Gothic horror.

When I first heard that Of Monsters and Madness, a story featuring Edgar Allan Poe and his character Annabel Lee was being published, I knew that I had to read it. I’m a consummate fan of classic Gothic literature, and as a teen, I ate up Edgar Allan Poe’s writing, especially his poetry. When I heard Verday added in a murder mystery, I was completely sold on reading it and the rest of the series. While the recent news that Egmont USA is folding up means that I’m not sure whether the rest of the books in this series will ever see the light of day and puts a slight damper on things, I do recommend this novel to anyone, like me, who is interested in dark stories filled with mad scientists, murders, manners of the 1800s, strong female characters, and descriptions of exotic food.

In the past, I’ve read some books with character meant to be from historical times, who fail to pass the test of believability, including a ghost who spoke in a contemporary way and not using the language of her time period. While Of Monsters and Madness is Verday’s first foray into a historical setting, but not her first retelling of American Gothic literature, I wasn’t sure whether to expect something that passes a general understanding of the language and customs of the period in which she set the story. If you’re worried about this possibility, too, then don’t be. While Verday does take some liberties in terms of when Edgar Allan Poe may have written some of his most famous poems and short stories since they were published about 20 years after the novel’s setting, nothing else seemed amiss to me. She details realistic conflicts that young women like Annabel Lee might’ve faced as she learns the American customs of propriety for the first time and that her dream of becoming a surgeon is nothing short of “unseemly” to her father and his contemporaries. Whereas in Siam she may have continued her education in the healing arts, she quickly learns that the only things in which she’ll be tutored in America is how to stand, walk, and that she must protect her reputation at all costs. Whether readers are well versed in literature from the 1800s or are new to this historical period and the limitations that young women would’ve faced, you can trust that Of Monsters and Madness will make you feel like you lived in this time period.

As with most classic Gothic literature, Verday doesn’t set out to scare her readers. Even though the prologue presents a scene that is rather alarming and soaked in blood, you don’t need to worry about reading this book after lights out if you aren’t a fan of scary stories. Instead, it will make you ask questions about the nature of science and experimentation, especially when those experiments take on a dark life of their own. Moreover, in keeping with the Gothic vibe, there are several allusions to the writing of Washington Irving and Robert Louis Stevenson in addition to those of Edgar Allan Poe.

I really enjoyed this book, the way the characters develop, and how Verday imagines how Poe developed his poetry and short stories, so if I were you, I’d read it. That said, if I have to give any criticism, it would be that if you’re familiar at all with the writings Verday alludes to you’ll be able to predict how some major “secrets” will turn out once you get to a certain point in the novel. If that doesn’t bother you or you are new to the Gothic, please pick up Of Monsters and Madness.

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