The maiden behind the monster
Sixteen-year-old Odile first meets the famous Doctor Henry Jekyll in a Paris zoo, where she has tried a magical spell on the monkeys—with disastrous results. To distract the doctor from her bloody business, Odile promises to procure elephant steaks from her butcher boyfriend. The Franco-Prussian War is raging and meat is scarce, so the wealthy are dining on slaughtered zoo animals while Odile sells dead rats for those desperate enough to eat anything.
When Odile worries that her witch powers will not save her younger brother from a degenerative eye disease, she turns to the gracious doctor for help. But she isn’t done experimenting, and in Doctor Jekyll’s laboratory, she creates a magical potion that transforms her brother into a monster. What she doesn’t know is that the shrewd doctor has been spying on her, and that his interest in her well-being springs not from charity, but from his fascination with magical transformation. Thus begins a retelling of the famous Doctor Jekyll’s story, as seen through the eyes of a poor orphan girl, who unintentionally gives the doctor the resources he needs to become the dangerous Mr. Hyde.
Best-selling author James Reese has created an enigmatic story. Odile’s first-person narrative is engaging and the descriptions of 19th-century Paris are historically authentic, despite the novel’s fantastical bent. Readers needn’t be familiar with the original Robert Louis Stevenson text to understand the message of this fresh take: that to mess with human nature welcomes disastrous and often deadly results.