The Mad Scientist's Daughter
By Cassandra Rose Clarke
Angry Robot January 2013
Read via Netgalley
Cat is a normal girl in many respects. She has a father and a mother. She loves to play outside. She is insatiably curious. But Cat doesn't go to school like other children. Instead, she has a tutor who happens to be an android. Finn is her teacher, her best friend, and the one constant in her tumultuous life. As Cat grows up, will she find a way to reconcile her feelings for this robot who supposedly cannot ever return her love?
For me, The Mad Scientist's Daughter took a while to find its footing. Because this story follows Cat for so many years, it is jarring at times to jump from a few days when she is five to an event several years later. I understand that the back story is important, but I wonder if there was a better way to convey it. Once we get to Cat as an adult, the story takes off in that wonderful "can't put it down" sort of way.
This minor issue aside, I really enjoyed this story. Clarke explores what it means to be human in a new and interesting way. Cat is a complicated character and she is not instantly likable. She sometimes makes really terrible decisions, even with the knowledge that the consequences will be severe for herself or others. It's a bold decision to make the protagonist of your novel someone who is often selfish and shuts off her feelings, but it creates a great contrast between Cat's reluctance to connect with the people in her life and Finn's confusion over how much he can feel.
This novel is marketed as sci-fi and it is that, to some extent. We read briefly about the condition of Cat's world and it is obviously a time that is a bit different from ours, since androids are a regular part of life. But there isn't a lot of time spent on the ramifications of technology or how their society came to be. This novel is really a story about love and relationships.
The Mad Scientist's Daughter was a pleasant surprise. I wasn't sure this book would work for me, but Clarke's writing won me over. She manages to take a selfish, angry character and make her interesting and someone you root for in spite of her many failings. This story reminds its readers of the importance of love in every time and place.