The Daughter of Doctor Moreau

Written by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Review by Bethany Latham

Moreno-Garcia has made a name for herself with colonial Gothic novels, and in The Daughter of Doctor Moreau, she takes a sci-fi classic and reimagines it from the point of view of Moreau’s daughter, Carlota. The setting has been moved to the Yucatán peninsula, so isolated in the 1870s that it might as well be an island. Carlota loves her life at Yaxaktun (Mayan for “green grotto”), where her father, French expatriate Moreau, uses his laboratory to create animal hybrids ostensibly to be used as labor for his patron, Mr. Lizalde. As yet, no viable workforce has been forthcoming, and Lizalde’s patience is dwindling. Carlota’s Mexican mother, and thus her origins, are shrouded in mystery, as are her father’s true motives. Englishman and mayordomo Montgomery Laughton spends his days brooding and drinking, and he sees nothing but trouble ahead when Carlota falls for Lizalde’s handsome son and heir. Meanwhile, the macehuales (indigenous rebel forces) threaten the other members of colonial society, from those of European blood like the Lizaldes to the mestizos of the Mexican melting pot.

Readers may find the plot “twists,” perhaps, anything but surprising (especially if they’ve read Wells’s novel), but that doesn’t detract from enjoyability. The unique setting is refreshing and innovative while still managing to feel true to Wells’s original jungle island isolation, and pacing works well. Characterization offers more for the hybrids in Moreno-Garcia’s take; while they may exhibit fur and claws, they show far more humanity than some of the humans in this tale. Threads of religion and the cultural and caste/racial aspects of the time period/setting (which the author calls a “dizzying array”) add complexity to the pure escapism. For fans of sci-fi, colonial Gothic, and reimagined classics, Moreno-Garcia’s novel offers an engaging read.