At the age of 16, Eliza Tally finds herself pregnant, jilted by her husband and trying to make her way in the big city. To compound matters, the city in question is early 18th-century London and her employer is a mad apothecary with a staggering opium addiction. With this opening, The Nature of Monsters leaves no doubt as to author Clare Clark's ability to capture the imagination. The events that unfold thereafter, however, prove that Clark (The Great Stink) also possesses the powerful ability to maintain that hold.
In an attempt to avoid scandal after her unanticipated pregnancy, Eliza is forced to leave her village and take residence in an apothecary's house as his maid. Far from being the dutiful servant or glowing expectant mother, she bristles against the boundaries of her position, raging at the misfortunes that brought her there. In truth, one wonders momentarily whether Eliza is, in fact, the monster in question. However, as she gradually adjusts to her fate, it becomes increasingly apparent that the goings-on within the apothecary's house are far from usual: howling in the night, inexplicable nighttime apparitions, a revolving door of suspicious men and her master's veiled appearance. As events descend further into the absurd, Eliza discovers that her employer's scientific experiments are more than a little unsavory and that she and Mary, her fellow maid, have become unwitting participants. From here, the real story begins as Eliza sets about attempting to save them both.
In The Nature of Monsters, Clark sets the stage for a most intriguing and unusual drama, traveling from the back alleys of London's slums to the darkened attics of its more reputable houses. Alternating between brutally descriptive writing and the fanatical theories of a man obsessed, Clark explores the nature of the demons that plague us, and what happens when they are allowed to take hold. Meredith McGuire writes from San Francisco.