September 9, 2014
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A romantic, historical retelling of classic Gothic horror featuring Edgar Allan Poe and his character Annabel Lee, from a New York Times best-selling author.
Summoned to her father's home in 1820's Philadelphia, a girl finds herself in the midst of a rash of gruesome murders in which he might be implicated. She is torn romantically between her father's assistants-one kind and proper, one mysterious and brooding-who share a dark secret and may have more to do with the violent events than they're letting on.''
O It was many and many a year ago,
In a kingdom by the sea,
That a maiden there lived whom you may know
By the name of Annabel Lee;
And this maiden she lived with no other thought
Than to love and be loved by me.
"Annabel Lee" by Edgar Allan Poe
Annabel Lee, one of Edgar Allan Poe's creations, comes to life in Jessica Verday's Of Monsters and Madness. Raised, in a faraway land, with little to no knowledge of her father, now sixteen Annabel has come to Philadelphia and her father's home.
Almost immediately upon her arrival, things are not as she had expected. Unfamiliar with how a proper lady should act and finding her family quite other than she had imagined, there is a lot of adjustment to be made. Yet, even as she tries to better understand her father and please him, his assistants and his work intrigue her.
Annabel is a really well conceived character. Not only has she grown up somewhere with quite different customs than early 19th-century Philadelphia, she has interests not common (or not commonly professed) to a girl of that time. Her interest in medicine gives Annabel something (else) that makes her different, shows a great deal about who she is in how it impacts her decisions, and facilitates some of the best parts of the story.
Despite the synopsis's mention of Annabel being 'torn romantically,' the romance in Of Monsters and Madness did not quite work. Everything seemed to happen very, very quickly. While Annabel would not be as held back by social norms as another girl, it still felt odd. The characters had little interaction and there did not seem to be that 'spark' or much chemistry between them. The 'kind and proper' character, especially, felt flat.
The connection between the two assistants seemed obvious from nearly the start. I think I would have liked this (that we 'knew' almost right away) if they - the one especially - had been more developed or there had been more of Annabel's thoughts or feelings about them. Perhaps it is because the book reminds me quite a bit of The Madman's Daughter and the 'love triangle' presented there worked much better.
Though the romance did not work for me, the friendship parts of the story were some of my favorite. While things did happen just as quickly, the characters seemed to have more interaction and there was something there that they just worked. I also liked both character enough, as well as what they brought out in each other, that I did not really care that the book's romance aspect wasn't working.
Of Monsters and Madness is an incredibly readable story. I really loved some of the characters, as well as their unique and interesting backgrounds and histories and what their stories became once woven together. The romance of Of Monsters and Madness did not work for me, but the rest of the book was entertaining and I'm eager to see what happens in the sequel. I really hope for more of Annabel's story and for one character, in particular, to once again take part.
Other books you may also enjoy: The Madman's Daughter by Megan Shepherd and Strands of Bronze and Gold by Jane Nickerson
digital review copy received from the publisher via NetGalley