Review: The Mad Scientist’s Daughter by Cassandra Rose Clarke

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January 21, 2013 by Heidi

The Mad Scientist's Daughter by Cassandra Rose Clarke book coverTitle: The Mad Scientist’s Daughter [Amazon|Goodreads]
Author: Cassandra Rose Clarke [Website|Twitter|Facebook]
Standing: Stand alone.
Genre: Speculative Fiction
Published: January 29th, 2013 by Angry Robot
Format: Paperback; 400 pages
Source: ARC from publisher via NetGalley

In Cassandra Rose Clarke’s sophomore novel, The Mad Scientist’s Daughter, she has worked to show us that her creative mind fires in all variety of ways, creating a world and story one wouldn’t necessarily expect from the creator of the young adult fantasy adventure, The Assassin’s Curse.  While I applaud Clarke for turning her hand to something new, I have to acknowledge that the audience for these two works will be extremely different, and even I as an eclectic reader do not fall into both categories.  I wanted more from The Mad Scientist’s Daughter.  I wanted Clarke’s insight and take on moral dilemmas we as a society are bound to run into in the not-so-distant future, and I wanted an emotional story that would grip my heart and color my life.  Instead, I was left feeling as bleak and devoid as this work’s beautiful but grey cover.

Due to my enjoyment of The Assassin’s Curse, I was determined to read The Mad Scientist’s Daughter despite it meeting at a glance two of my personal dealbreakers:

  1.  A character named Finn.
  2. A The ________’s Daughter title.

If any of you read this article on The Millions last year, you’ll know that I can’t be the only one getting a little sick of this naming trend, which has increased substantially over the last two decades:

Books Titled The ___’s Daughter, 1990-2011
Data and Image via The Millions.

And if you think it’s a trend that’s dying down, I feel the need to point out that this month marks the release of not only The Mad Scientists’s Daughter, but also The Madman’s Daughter by Megan Shepard.  That’s not confusing to readers at all. Now, I’m sure no one’s bothered to compile such data on characters named Finn because that really might just be me, but I’m willing to bet the graph would look similar.  At least the green eye trend seems to be falling off.

Perhaps I should have followed my instincts and known that The Mad Scientist’s Daughter would not be the right fit for me.  Cassandra Rose Clarke tells the story of Cat, the titular mad scientist’s daughter, following her from early childhood well into adulthood, along with her relationship with the android who works with her father, Finn.  I craved more from Cat’s experiences–what it was like to be her father’s daughter, how she truly felt about A.I. in general, how she interacted with the world at large.  Instead, I felt we were following the story of a selfish, petulant human being who endlessly self-sabotaged her life and grew little as a person.

I don’t always need to love my main characters, but when I don’t, I need there to be a something that keeps bringing me back to the story.  For The Mad Scientist’s Daughter, it was the hope that Clarke would delve into the moral issues she had presented through her tale.  I wanted to know more about how the world had come to toss aside art and language for such a strong focus on math and science.  I wanted to flush out her relationship with a mother who believed it was wrong for a woman to do anything but have a career in a time and age where they had the option to choose.  I wanted to know more about how Cat’s mind worked–how she was able to see art, beauty, and humanity in that technology which drove the current society.  I wanted to know how she was able to love someone she also truly believed could never feel anything for her in return.  Cat donates to the cause of sentient A.I. gaining human rights, and yet, it’s not because she actually believes in it, it’s because it makes her feel better about the path she has chosen to take.  I wanted to see more internal struggle with the fact that she was taking advantage of someone she saw as a man because the rest of the world saw him as a machine.  I feel as if in 400 pages, Clarke had plenty of time to give us a closer look at these aspects of her world, but instead the pages were filled up with needless descriptions of unimportant things.

The imperfections I saw in Clarke’s writing when I read her debut persisted in The Mad Scientist’s Daughter, but because I wasn’t swept away be the story I was unable to brush them aside.  There was so much telling being done in The Mad Scientist’s Daughter, and not enough showing.  I found myself unable to care whatsoever about Cat or her fate because she didn’t allow me to–instead she as a character holds readers at arm’s length in the same manner that she holds off other human beings.  Ideas were presented, but never looked into, and what tale there was lacked the depth it needed to prop it up.  The story can be boiled down to one selfish woman’s personal journey, but it could have been so much more.

Clarke has successfully established herself as an author able to craft a variety of speculative fiction, however, she has also shown that not all of her works will be targeted for one audience.  This is in no way a bad thing, in fact it is impressive to successfully write in a variety of genres and for various age groups, but it will make me more wary to pick up her books in the future.

Likelihood that I’ll be back for more:  I may have been disappointed in The Mad Scientist’s Daughter, but I adored Clarke’s debut, The Assassin’s Curse.  I’m awaiting the follow up, The Pirate’s Wish very anxiously!

Recommended for:  Readers who enjoyed The Age of Miracles.

Get a second opinion:
The Nocturnal Library – “At its very core, The Mad Scientist’s Daughter is a romance, but a desperate, torturous one that can be very hard to read about.”
Ivy Book Bindings – “I cannot deny that Clarke is a phenomenal writer and her versatility has definitely shown through in her quick – and successful – venture into adult novels. Still, I think I’ll just stick with her YA books”
Bibliophilic Monologues – “The novel is strange, clunky and yet all the more readable for it. It asks some very difficult questions and while it doesn’t expect any clear answers, it does expect that you, the reader, will think about the questions it raises.”

I’ve also reviewed:
The Assassin’s Curse by Cassandra Rose Clarke (The Assassin’s Curse 1)

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15 comments »

  1. Stunning review, Heidi! I love that you so fully delve into all the issues you had with this book and explain them so thoroughly. As you know, we had similar issues with this novel but even I hadn’t noticed quite as much that society truly set aside the arts for math and sciences. Gosh, so many little things that were sprinkled throughout the tale and just didn’t offer any explanation whatsoever! Well, here’s to hoping The Pirate’s Wish is every bit as good as we hope it will be! :)

    • Heidi says:

      Thanks, Keertana! Yes, I’m with you. Let’s just brush our experience with this one under the rug and look forward to The Pirate’s Wish!

  2. Angie says:

    Ah, yes. So many Finns these days. But you do love some of the first Finns, don’t you? Finn from ENNA BURNING? Finny from A SEPARATE PEACE? Heidi, I NEED TO KNOW THESE THINGS.

    • Heidi says:

      YES! In fact, part of the reason I hate that every character these days is named Finn is because I REALLY love the name, and I love so many of the old Finns (including Huckleberry).

      Isn’t your son named Finn because of the great old school ones? I support this 100%! I just don’t like to see things I love get overused. D:

  3. Oh dear, the more reviews I see of this, the more I believe I made the right decision not to finish it. I especially have trouble with characters that I never like and cannot sympathize with. I agree that this book SOUNDS like a fascinating premise, but it seems like the author didn’t focus her story on the areas that would have made it better and more interesting. It is so hard when you read a book, and you can sense its potential for greatness, but it never quite gets there.

    I actually happen to like the name Finn though. The name that’s gotten on my nerves in YA is Alex, which seems to be everywhere as well. And from your description, it doesn’t seem like that title is at all accurate for the book.