Mar 4, 2014

[Books] The Mad Scientist's Daughter

I wasn't quite sure what to expect from The Mad Scientist's Daughter when I downloaded the title from NetGalley. It wasn't exactly the sort of book that immediate fit in with the rest of my titles of interest given it was positioning itself as a tale of love, among other things. I tend to stick to more direct science fiction where love is incidental at best - not the central theme of the narrative.

But I've also come to trust Angry Robot Books to feature truly interesting works and it's not very often that I stumble on a title that I absolutely hate or something. For fans of genre fiction, especially of the science fiction and/or fantasy variants, they're a pretty good publisher to bank on. And this book is definitely a winner in its own right.

There are a lot of things that I enjoyed about this story - and I'll do my best to articulate this in the review proper. But hey, I'm a sucker for a good robot story, and this was a pretty interesting one, to say the least. Certain aspects of the writing could have been tighter, but in the long run it was all pretty poignant.

Synopsis: The Mad Scientist's Daughter is a science fiction novel by Cassandra Rose Clarke. I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion of the work as part of the Angry Robot Army review program.

The story is told from the perspective from a little girl named Cat on the night that a strange man named Finn comes to their household. At first Cat fears that Finn is a good given his strange silvery eyes that glow in the dark but eventually she learns the truth - that Finn is a highly complex android. Finn is tasked by her father to become her tutor given she has been home-schooled all of her life, and thus the two are forced to interact with one another on a regular basis.

But as Cat blossoms into womanhood, her affinity for Finn also grows into something else. And as we follow her through what feels like most of her life, we explore her feelings about the android Finn and touch on questions of identity, sentience and how those interact or come to be. And slowly we also get glimpses of the greater world beyond their farm and what has befallen mankind.

At first the book doesn't immediately feel like science fiction - if anything it felt like one of Neil Gaiman's urban fantasy tales for young adult audiences or something. And I suppose Clarke's background in young adult fiction really shows here (she has one other book to-date, The Assassin's Curse. But ten we discover that Finn is a robot, that this is a sort of post-apocalyptic world and other little touches really enhance the story. Yes, this book does have a science fiction setting, but it opts to focus more on the unusual relationship between Cat and Finn.

Clarke's writing style is rather lovely and often feels like prose more than just conventional fiction. And given this is pretty much a first person narrative, it helps give the book a very personal feel to things. But man, some of the passages in this book are truly beautiful and they convey Cat's sense of self more than anything else. She's a little more than just a fully realized character - she feels like a real person with her share hopes and heartaches.

But as much as we get to experience the human side to this story through Cat's eyes, we're also witness to the equally complex struggle of Finn. He's more than just a robot or some computer with legs - he demonstrates very clear signs of true sentience. But what he lacks are true human emotions and rights as an individual - two aspects of his life that are also explored. But given the perspective of this story is focused around Cat, we see him from a distance from the most part, as Cat did. And this all the more stresses how he mostly had to deal with his contemplation and realizations alone.

The book runs a little long, I have to admit. Or maybe it wanders into details that I didn't really need to deal with in such detail. And in that sense, it feels a little longer than it should, but this is a minor quibble at best. The scope and scale of the story is essentially Cat's conscious life. And to capture the human experience in such detail is no small feat indeed.

The Mad Scientist's Daughter is a beautiful, well-crafted tale of love, if such love for an android can even be possible. And the nature of this love and what it may mean makes for a great story at the heart of this narrative. Thus the book rates a highly respectable 4 impulsive decisions Cat comes to out of a possible 5.

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