Mary Jekyll and the Athena Club race to save Alice—and foil a plot to unseat the Queen, in the electrifying conclusion to the trilogy that began with the Nebula Award finalist and Locus Award winner The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter.
Life’s always an adventure for the Athena Club...especially when one of their own has been kidnapped! After their thrilling European escapades rescuing Lucina van Helsing, Mary Jekyll and her friends return home to discover that their friend and kitchen maid Alice has vanished—and so has Mary's employer Sherlock Holmes!
As they race to find Alice and bring her home safely, they discover that Alice and Sherlock’s kidnapping are only one small part of a plot that threatens Queen Victoria, and the very future of the British Empire. Can Mary, Diana, Beatrice, Catherine, and Justine save their friends—and save England? Find out in the final installment of the fantastic and memorable Extraordinary Adventures of the Athena Club series.
This reading group guide for The Sinister Mystery of the Mesmerizing Girlincludes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
The members of the Athena Club are familiar with Ayesha and know the story of how she gained her awesome powers as a young woman in ancient Egypt. But as Mary, Justine, and Diana rush home to England to rescue Alice, who has disappeared from 11 Park Terrace, they have no idea that their foe is inextricably linked to Ayesha and her past. For, unbeknownst to Mary and the others, Alice has been taken by her mother, Helen Raymond, as part of a dastardly plot to raise Ayesha’s former high priestess from the dead. And that’s only the first step of the plan, as a mysterious group of villains calling themselves The Order of the Golden Dawn intends to take over Great Britain with the help of mesmeric powers, a kidnapped queen, and the unbelievable powers of the revived high priestess, Queen Tera.
To complicate matters further, Sherlock Holmes is missing, having fallen prey to his archnemesis, Moriarty. So as Mary attempts to find both Alice and Holmes, she must do so without the assistance of the one man who could be most useful. As the entire Athena Club—including Lucinda—converge on London, it becomes obvious that they must travel to the shore and risk their lives to save their friends, the Queen of England, and their very country. But are their combined powers enough to defeat the might of Queen Tera? And will they be forced to sacrifice something they love in order to save the world from an awful fate?
Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. Why do you think the book is dedicated to Mary Shelley? Were mothers important to the members of the Athena Club? What did their mothers have to do with their monstrosity?
2. As Justine returns to London, she contemplates Adam’s death and her life with the Athena Club with a sense of peace and a seeming air of contentment. Is it wrong of her to feel this release at Adam’s death? Could she have found the same feeling if he were still alive? Do all the other members of the Athena Club feel this same contentment? If not, what prevents them from feeling it?
3. Beatrice feels that “it would be good for Clarence to fall in love with someone else . . . only not Ayesha. One could not compete with someone like Ayesha.” [p.21] What does she mean by this statement? Why would she be in competition with any other woman that Clarence loved? Why does she feel that she needs to push Clarence away? Is she committed to doing this?
4. Why must Lucinda learn to hunt, instead of just having blood brought to her? Does the understanding that she must kill to survive help her during the course of the story? Does her vampirism make her more monstrous than the other members of the Athena Club?
5. Upon returning to London, Mary muses that she “had come home, but she was not the same Mary who had left—not quite.” [p. 31] Is it simply the act of traveling that has changed Mary, or are there other influences that contributed to this change? Is this the only change that Mary—or any of her friends—have gone through in the course of this trilogy?
6. According to Diana, what makes a person dull? Does Mary fall into this category? Why is Diana so hard on the other members of the Athena Club? Do their responses to her represent their true feelings toward her?
7. When Alice meets Dr. Seward for the first time, she thinks “Strange, that evil should look so bland.” [p.87] Is this true of all the evil people that they encounter? How does this blandness help evil men accomplish their dastardly deeds? Do our heroines look bland? Knowing the morals of each group, which one would you expect to look more distinctive?
8. What is the ultimate goal of the Order of the Golden Dawn? Why do they feel so strongly that they are right in pursuing this goal? Do Miss Trelawny, Mrs. Raymond, and Queen Tera have a different purpose in attempting to take over the government?
9. Why does Miss Trelawny warn the Order about risking their lives for the “power and wisdom of ancient Egypt?” [p. 115] Is she truly concerned about their safety? Does her warning in any way release her from responsibility for what happens during the ritual?
10. Mary has found that all the prostitutes she has met are “simply ordinary women trying to get by without family to support them, or friends to offer them help, or the training required for more respectable employment.” [p.123] Was Mary—or were any of the members of the Athena Club—ever in danger of having to become a prostitute? What other opportunities were available to women at the time? Has that changed in our day and age?
11. Moriarty reminds Alice of a preacher who had visited the orphanage while she was there. In what ways is this an apt comparison? Is there anyone else in the story for whom this comparison is apt?
12. What aspects of Ayesha’s experience make her stand in opposition to Queen Tera? Would a younger Ayesha have made this same decision? Does her experience make her a good leader, or does it, as Beatrice says, make her so she “no longer understands human morality” and needs to be reminded of “the need for empathy and compassion?” [p.163]
13. After hearing Ayesha’s story, Catherine thinks that it must be terrible to never grow old or die. Why does Catherine think this? Would Ayesha agree with her? There are other immortal characters in the book, or at least characters who will live far longer than normal humans . . . would they agree with Catherine?
14. As she tries to get into the Diogenes Club, Mary thinks that “she wanted to be just a little more like Irene—smarter, bolder, more courageous.” [p.187] She is not the only character who tries to emulate another—Alice tries to act more like Mary, and Laura travels across Europe in a motorcar in an attempt to be more like Carmilla. Why do each of these characters want to take on the traits of others? Do they already exhibit any of the characteristics they seek to emulate? How do you think Irene, Mary, and Carmilla would feel to know that the others were trying to be more like them?
15. Why does Mary hesitate to hold Beatrice’s hand while they walk along the causeway? Where does Beatrice think the hesitation comes from? What does it mean to Beatrice when Mary takes her hand without hesitation? Does the friendship of the Athena Club mean different things to the different members?
16. What is Alice’s relationship to her mother? In what ways is it similar to, and in what ways is it different from Helen’s relationship to her father? How did Helen’s death change Alice’s feelings toward her? Can Justine and Lucinda truly understand Alice’s feelings about losing her mother?
17. What is Sherlock Holmes’ role in this story? How does it differ from the part he usually plays, either in this trilogy, or in other stories about him? What does his change in agency mean for the other characters?
Enhance Your Book Club
1. Egyptology and the archeological fever of the period play an important role in the story. Research one aspect of these subjects that interests you, and report your findings back to the group. Mummification, important archeological finds, the history of women in archeology, Egyptian burial rituals, or legendary curses are just some of the topics you could choose.
2. Beatrice finds it difficult to believe how little the general public knows about the plants that surround them, particularly when it comes to medicinal and poisonous plants. Take a walk through a local park or wooded area, foraging for edible or medicinal plants that you can use in your everyday life. Be sure to consult a detailed botany book or a local expert to ensure that you don’t confuse an edible plant with a poisonous one! Alternatively, you could plant some useful, medicinal plants in your yard or garden and begin using them in a purposeful way.
3. The Order of the Golden Dawn takes a very strong anti-immigration stance, even going so far as to champion eugenics. We are currently facing a very strong anti-immigration sentiment, not just in the United States, but in many other countries as well. Divide into two groups and stage a debate between pro- and anti-immigration factions. It could be interesting to join the side that does not share your beliefs, and see if you can reach a better understanding of their position.
4. Alice sometimes has trouble viewing the other members of the Athena Club as her peers, since she was (well) trained by Mrs. Poole to be a servant in Mary’s household. Find one of the many books, movies, or television shows that deal with the division between the upper class and their servants (Downton Abbey;TheRemains of the Day;Upstairs, Downstairs; etc.), and compare the attitudes you find there to the situation at 11 Park Terrace.
Theodora Goss is the World Fantasy Award–winning author of many publications, including the short story collection In the Forest of Forgetting; Interfictions, a short story anthology coedited with Delia Sherman; Voices from Fairyland, a poetry anthology with critical essays and a selection of her own poems; The Thorn and the Blossom, a novella in a two-sided accordion format; and the poetry collection Songs for Ophelia; and the novels, The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter, European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman, and The Sinister Mystery of the Mesmerizing Girl. She has been a finalist for the Nebula, Locus, Crawford, Seiun, and Mythopoeic Awards, as well as on the Tiptree Award Honor List, and her work has been translated into eleven languages. She teaches literature and writing at Boston University and in the Stonecoast MFA Program. Visit her at TheodoraGoss.com.
“A fantastic literary pastiche, that brings together the daughters of literature’s most famous mad scientists, full of beloved classic characters and references that book fans will devour. It’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen—with awesome ladies. And it doesn’t get much better than that.” —Navah W., Senior Editor, on The Sinister Mystery of the Mesmerizing Girl
“Theodora Goss is a wonder. Her elegance, wit and powerful voice pull no punches. A brilliant, deeply felt, and nimble book.”
– Catherynne M. Valente, Hugo-Award winning author, on THE STRANGE CASE OF THE ALCHEMIST'S DAUGHTER
“Theodora Goss' splendid debut novel is a whipsmart look at the truths hiding in the stories - Jekyll and Hyde, Frankenstein, and others - that you might think you know. Full of bravery, adventures, monsters, and sisters, The Strange Case of the Alchemist's Daughter is a rich delight. I loved it, and I can't wait to read the next book.”
– Kat Howard, author of ROSES AND ROT, on THE STRANGE CASE OF THE ALCHEMIST'S DAUGHTER
"Theodora Goss' The Strange Case of the Alchemist's Daughter provides a new and altogether mesmerizing revelation for fans of Watson & Holmes, Van Helsing, Jeckyll & Hyde, and Victor Frankenstein: until now, you've only heard half the story. Goss' deft, poetic interweaving of edge-of-the-seat adventure with the artful voices of her characters creates a matryoshka doll of hidden Gothic fiction in the best sense. The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter proves the point that behind every evil genius you'll find a team of fantastic women working to set things right.
As if Charlie's Angels, as written by Mary Shelley, took over the Bluestocking Society, with bonus well-mannered explosions. An utterly delightful, transformative read."
– Fran Wilde, award-winning author of Updraft, Cloudbound, and Horizon on THE STRANGE CASE OF THE ALCH
*Winner of the Locus Award for Best First Novel*
*Finalist for the Nebula Award for Best Novel*
*Finalist for the World Fantasy Award for Best Novel*
* "A tour de force of reclaiming the narrative, executed with impressive wit and insight."
– Publishers Weekly, STARRED REVIEW, on THE STRANGE CASE OF THE ALCHEMIST'S DAUGHTER
"An enormously accomplished delight of a book...a brilliant novel."
– Liz Bourke on THE STRANGE CASE OF THE ALCHEMIST'S DAUGHTER
"A pleasure, especially for fans of Victorian detective stories, classic sf and horror literature, and feminist remakes."
– Booklist on THE STRANGE CASE OF THE ALCHEMIST'S DAUGHTER
"A delightful romp through Victorian gothic literature, with a decidedly feminist slant."
– Library Journal on THE STRANGE CASE OF THE ALCHEMIST'S DAUGHTER
"A swiftly paced, immaculately plotted mystery full of winning characters you always thought you knew, as well as ones you would never have imagined."
– NPR on THE STRANGE CASE OF THE ALCHEMIST'S DAUGHTER
"If you’re looking for adventure, kick-ass ladies, a good mystery, and a touch of the monstrous, look no further—The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter is the brainy, gleefully madcap literary mashup of your dreams."
– B&N SciFi & Fantasy Blog on THE STRANGE CASE OF THE ALCHEMIST'S DAUGHTER
" Like a literary magpie, Goss snaps up some of the shiniest bits of Victorian popular culture, but she makes them her own, seeing the possibilities beyond the efforts of their original creators and constructing an intelligent and engrossing 21st-century adventure."
– The Portland Press Herald on THE STRANGE CASE OF THE ALCHEMIST'S DAUGHTER
"Goss skillfully balances the revisionist feminist themes with a crackling conspiracy adventure and a colorful portrait of Victorian London."
– The Chicago Tribune on THE STRANGE CASE OF THE ALCHEMIST'S DAUGHTER
"They are just as much fun as their fictional fathers, and like the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, their talents play off against one other, anchored by Mary, the most normal of them: prudent, thrifty, genteel, her father’s revolver loaded and ready."
– The Wall Street Journal on THE STRANGE CASE OF THE ALCHEMIST'S DAUGHTER
"Goss upends fantasy tropes to bring to life characters who would have been ignored in the period works that inspired them, and the result is a fantastic, gripping read that feels true to the spirit of the original works, but updated with a modern spin for the 21st century reader.”
– The Verge on THE STRANGE CASE OF THE ALCHEMIST'S DAUGHTER