Being a life-long fan of Poe and his poem Annabel Lee especially, I was more than excited to read Of Monsters and Madness by Jessica Verday.
A girl named Annabel Lee comes to Philadelphia to live with her estranged father after her mother dies. A young woman in a strange city, she yearns to connect with her dad, but finds he’s a jerk. Grumpy and bothered by her presence, he doesn’t make her feel welcome at all. His behavior is blamed on an illness, but I suspect he was a jerk before the illness set in, because not even in tender moments does he show any sort of compassion. To add insult to injury, he is constantly angry with Annabel’s (what he considers) ill manners and wild ways. All she wants to do is get to know him and study medicine. Him being a doctor, you would think he’d be proud, but he chastises her for doing it.
Thankfully, she has her grandfather, a kind aristocrat sort of fellow who makes way too many excuses for his son. He is a comfort to Annabel, though, and makes her stay bearable. She also has a young maid Maddy who becomes her confident and friend.
Shortly after arriving, Annabel becomes acquainted with her father’s assistant, Allan (Poe), who she begins to care for. She also finds out there have been murders in town that her father may be connected with.
I liked the fish out of water story and I enjoyed Annabel sharing her culture with the others in the house. I liked that she felt a duty to help the ill as her mother had and that she found small ways to use her medical knowledge despite her father’s aversion to it. I also liked the Poe references and the author’s vision of Poe’s time in Philadelphia. I think he would have approved of her artistic license in painting him as a young, but brilliant writer who was destined to become a macabre icon. I also really enjoyed the Dr. Jekyll, Mr. Hyde angle, incorporating Robert Louis Stevenson’s idea into this already dark piece of work.
When I dove in, I wasn’t sure I’d continue reading an entire novel in first person, present tense. In a world where 3rd person past is the norm, it was uncomfortable for me to say the least. If I was not such a fan of the theme, I’m not sure I would have made it through it. It’s unfortunate the publisher/editor/author allowed the tense to ruin what was a spectacular story.
Despite my overall like of the story, there were several questions left unanswered. This combined with an unresolved ending (especially with no mention of a sequel) earns a lower rating from me.
I’d say the author did Poe and Poe enthusiasts proud, I just would have liked it in a different tense format.