Date started: February 3rd
Date finished: February 9th
Before I start on the review itself, look at that cover. Look at it. I don’t know why, but I love it, it just works for me. I love how the colour scheme suits the vaguely post-apocalyptic setting, and the font suits the tone of the story, and its protagonist. Anyway…
The Mad Scientist’s Daughter is the story of Cat, and the impact an android called Finn has on her life. Over the course of the story, we follow Cat from being a young child, through adolescence, and into adulthood over a range of jobs, friendships, and relationships. The only real constant is Finn, an android that Cat’s father brought home to tutor her as a young child, but who she develops a bond with and love for as she grows up.
I first became aware of Cassandra Rose Clarke last year with the release of The Assassin’s Curse from Strange Chemistry, the young adult imprint of Angry Robot. I very much enjoyed it, and I’m relatively certain I’ll be reviewing the sequel later on this year, but even as I was reading it, I found myself wondering what Clarke would do with an adult novel. The answer arrived. It is The Mad Scientist’s Daughter, and it is wonderful.
I confess, romance is not my usual genre, so I was a little wary going into this. Thankfully, those fears were unfounded. While it is a story of love, that story actually serves as a framing device for a larger narrative about the nature of programming vs emotions, and whether sentient machines deserve the same rights as people. Despite the one most affected by the issues, Finn often seems conflicted on them. It’s clear he’s sentient enough to understand the abstract concept of love, but is incapable of feeling the emotion himself. The extremes of each opinion are represented by different characters that come in and out of Cat’s life, like her activist friend who fights for robot rights, or her corporate husband, who works for a company actively building intelligent machines without the sentience.
What really impressed me about the whole thing was that Clarke never fell into the trap of only making these characters about their opinions. It’s something we’ve all seen before, that Atlas Shrugged effect of characters existing only to spout their opinions on one issue, but it doesn’t exist here. Every character is well rounded, and have hobbies, interests, and quirks that serve well to differentiate them from one another. Particularly strong is the characterisation of Cat herself. She’s not a Mary Sue, and she doesn’t exist solely to love and worship Finn (here’s looking at you, Bella Swan). She is very human, and often flawed. There were parts in the middle of the book where I actively disliked her for some of her decisions, but had enough affection for the character that I had to keep reading to see if she redeemed herself.
The other thing I really like is Clarke’s mastery of descriptive language. It falls on just the right side of the line where it becomes too flowery for my taste, but phrases such as fireflies being described as ‘intermittent stars’, and Cat being said to have been ‘made of mist and moonlight’ are the sort of thing I wish came to me naturally. Call it writer’s envy.
I’ll be honest, Angry Robot is my favourite publisher right now. Since I discovered them last year, I’ve bought enough books from them to make a tree cry. And as long as they keep putting out quality sci-fi, fantasy, and other genre fiction like The Mad Scientist’s Daughter, I will continue to do so.