I didn’t have high expectations.
Gender-swapped Jekyll and Hyde, I get it. Probably all repressed when she’s Jekyll and lascivious when she’s Hyde. Yawn. And the paranormal romance cover screams, “Why they fuck would you pick this up to read, Michael? You are not the target audience.”
So it’s a good thing I ignored my instincts and trusted the recommendations I’d seen.
Viola Carr’s novel (and yes, my initial impression of the story is more or less true) takes that somewhat predictable premise and crafts a thrilling penny dreadful populated with a plethora of classic horror characters, which I was loathe to put down.
Dr. Eliza Jekyll is a medical examiner working with London’s Metropolitan Police to track serial killers in a steampunk London where magic is outlawed and practitioners are burned alive. She also works at Bethlem hospital, assisting with the care of the mental patients there.
But she also has a secret, which is patently obvious from the title. The daughter of the infamous Dr. Jekyll, she has inherited her father’s dual nature, and the repressed doctor struggles to contain the unbridled Lizzie Hyde. While she believes she is successfully hiding her true nature, she has caught the eye of the Royal Society, who capture and kill magicians and alchemists, and they have sent the dark and mysterious Captain Remy Lafayette to unearth her secret.
Of course romance blossoms, creating an uncomfortable love triangle between Jekyll, Hyde and Lafayette, who is hiding a secret of his own.
I could figure that plot out from the photo and blurb on the cover. And Lafayette’s dark secret was pretty obvious as well. There were a couple twists I couldn’t predict, however, such as the identities of the opposing powers behind the struggle between science and magic.
But where Carr really surprised me, pretty much from the first paragraph, was her flair for language and the way she used her prose to highlight Jekyll and Hyde’s divergent personalities. Lizzie speaks in first person, coarsely narrating her actions, even when she is bottled up in Eliza’s psyche. And the novel switches to third person when Eliza is in control, an excellent device that maintains even as the lines blur between Eliza and Lizzie. The passionate Lizzie speaks direct to the reader, while the clinical Eliza’s story is told from a detached perspective.
She also throws plenty of cameos and allusions to classic (and current) horror into the mix, from the mysterious German doctor who worked with electricity and reviving human bodies, to Lucy, the poor girl in the madhouse with a taste for blood and an eye for the hospital’s assistant, Will. We also meet Malachi Todd, an erudite serial killer whom Eliza captured and who now tantalizes and psychoanalyzes her a’la Hannibal Lecter when she visits him in Bethlem. And while Eliza’s policeman partner Harley Griffin isn’t the Invisible Man in The Diabolical Miss Hyde, he DOES vanish from the action about halfway through the novel.
And, sucker for dogs that I am, appreciated the loyal canine qualities of Hipp, Eliza’s clockwork assistant. He wasn’t exactly a robo-puppy, but he certainly acted like one.
The Diabolical Miss Hyde is the first in Carr’s “Electric Empire” series, and while I wasn’t 100% sold on it, I’m certainly going to continue with the series. Her steampunk-meets-gaslight London and her playful appropriation of classic horror are an excellent backdrop, and the “electric” prose more than makes up for the story’s deficiencies.
I still don’t like the cover, though.