Strange Angels: The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter, Part Deux

As promised, here’s the second part of my blog series on Theodora Goss’s magnificent novel The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter. You can find the first part here. In this post, I’ll be looking into the way the book interrogates, explores and approaches gender, and how that plays into the characters’ perceived monstrosity; I’ll also be focusing a lot on Goss’ reinvention of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. If you haven’t read The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter, I urge you to rectify that grave oversight as quickly as a hansom cab or noble steed could carry you – for this post will contain ALL OF THE SPOILERS. For those of you who have already gorged themselves on its Gothic grandeur, read on…

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People are Strange: Remoulding the Monster in Theodora Goss’ Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter

Sometimes a book comes along which seems like it really gets you. Something which captures who you are, and captivates you from the first word to the last. I’ve been blessed by a number of those in my lifetime: Charles Williams’ Descent into Hell, Tanith Lee’s White as Snow, Kai Ashante Wilson’s The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps, to name a few. Theodora Goss’ gloriously Gothic debut novel The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter, is newest addition to that hallowed list. Knowing my personal and professional interest in all things Gothic, my dear friend AJ Muller recommended it to me – and I’m forever thankful, because this is the best book I’ve read in quite some time.

This book was born from a question Goss asked herself during the writing of her doctoral dissertation: ‘Why did so many of the mad scientists in nineteenth-century narratives create, or start creating but then destroy, female monsters?’ (p. 401). As a response to such gendered destruction, Goss set about writing a Goth-vengers assemble of all the female monsters the nineteenth-century left behind, giving them voices, opportunities and agency that their original counterparts lacked, or were robbed of. The book centres on the daughters of Jekyll and Hyde, who team up with Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson to solve a spate of gruesome Ripper-esque murders that culminates in the uncovering of the mysterious Alchemical Society. And if THAT alone doesn’t persuade you to pick up this book, I don’t know what will. Because of its Gothic nature, there are doubles EVERYWHERE, and so in this post I’ll be unpacking the delectable duality in Goss’ skilful twisting of these classic tales.

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Law & Lore in Star Wars: Crime and Punishment in a Galaxy Far, Far Away

One of the personal joys I find in studying Law and Literature is the way in which it enhances any and every experience of consuming fiction (literary, cinematic, visual, theatrical – the works). Law and Literature can be used as a lens by which otherwise black letter legal texts may be brought to vibrant life by reading it as you might a Shakespearean drama; and it can also be used to explore the ways in which legal concepts, issues and dilemmas as portrayed in works of fiction.

It’s been months since The Last Jedi barrelled its way into the public consciousness, and its melancholic, mature deconstruction of morality, humanity and the dichotomy of light and dark within each of us, still haunts me. It has a lot to say about the murky moral shades of grey of which the franchise has shied away from thus far, and some truly insightful thoughts on the nature of legacy, justice and heroism that will probably plague and pervade me until Episode IX comes out in 2019. The sequel trilogy’s crowning achievement for me is melding nostalgia with newness. One of the more fascinating aspects of The Last Jedi – which is really saying something – is how it touches on the topic of criminality in a more forefront way than previous instalments. Most interesting of all is how it deftly interrogates the internal aspects of criminality, exploring how the characters came to do the things they did, as well as examining the residual after-effects of their actions both internally and externally.

In this post I’ll be exploring how the Star Wars franchise has historically framed crime and punishment, focusing on the dark/ light dichotomy and using the sulky Skywalker scion as a case study of criminality and redemption.

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Love Kernels & Dream Ghosts: Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s Top 20 Songs

I’m so glad this weird and wonderful show is a part of my life. If you’re not watching it, you should be – if you’re not hooked, or at least intrigued, by the title, then see how you feel after the final refrain of ‘West Covina, California!’ The bold, bizarre brainchild of Aline Brosh McKenna and Rachel Bloom (who also stars), Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (hereafter CEXG) revolves around Rebecca Bunch, a successful lawyer who quits her job and uproots her successful but somewhat hollow life to follow her childhood sweetheart Josh Chan (aka the one that got away) to his hometown of West Covina – not that she would ever admit to it.

As season 1’s theme song declared, ‘the situation’s a lot more nuanced than that’, and we watch (sometimes between our fingers) as Rebecca makes new friends, enemies and bad choices; rinse and repeat. However, despite this the characters go on brilliantly complex journeys of personal growth and development, though not in a linear fashion. Their evolution involves as many steps back as leaps forward, just like in real life, and though they can be frustrating they are also deeply relatable and recognisable. Soon, the town of West Covina – once a smokescreen for Rebecca’s delusions, now an unlikely haven, and a home for her and her newfound friends, becomes home for us too.

This is by no means an exhaustive list – there are many wonderful numbers I had to leave out, like Devil Winds, Head in the Clouds and a recent ABBA-inflected ode to first love that is both worryingly catchy AND too explicit to sing in public (or recount here). The top 20 songs listed here are my own personal favourites, but even the ones that didn’t make it on this list are all brilliant in their own way, contributing to the narrative, the character development, or the meta commentary on the human experience in their own unique, unusual way. One of the most amazing things about this show is that different aspects appeal to different people, and that nobody’s favourites list will be the same because of that. Brimming with incredible actors and phenomenal writers, the show is at times relatable, sad, crude, cringe-inducing, heart-warming, funny and profound, and I genuinely cannot think of any other series like it. So without further ado, here are my personal favourites; I’d love to hear yours in the comments below!

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Bad to the Bone: Fiction’s Finest Foes

There’s something beautiful about a truly great villain – not necessarily aesthetically, although that may be a factor; but beautiful in a narrative way. Someone so wretched and wicked, and yet believably or even relatably so, that we find ourselves pitying or even empathising with them, if not agreeing with them. The following isn’t a definitive list of the greatest villains of all time, just a collection of my personal favourites. Some honourable mentions before we begin: Miranda Frost (Die Another Day), Mystique (X-Men 1-3), Sheriff of Nottingham (Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves), Top Dollar (The Crow), and Lady Deathstrike (X2). All of them are either cool and/or complex, but they just got pipped at the post by the ten formidably brilliant characters below. Now, without an ado to be furthered, here’s my top 10 best baddies…

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Kylo Ren as Gothic Double

The Star Wars saga has always been thematically and emotionally rich, but never moreso than in The Last Jedi. Duty, sacrifice, justice, all these things and more hang heavy over the story. Easily the most complex character of the new trilogy is Kylo Ren, played with brittle brutality by the inimitable Adam Driver. Kylo is a magnificent monster, a calibre of villain to rival his revered Darth Vader. Kylo is volatile, mercurial; his temper turns on a dime. And yet we see him struggle with the conflict between the Dark Side and the Light. For me, he ranks alongside Vincent D’Onofrio’s Kingpin and Luke Goss’ Prince Nuada in the upper echelons of brilliant baddies. Most frightening of all, he’s the kind of villain you can both understand and pity. In the same vein as Gothic monsters like Frankenstein’s Creature, Edward Hyde and Dracula, Kylo is the product of tragic miscommunication and his own disastrous life choices. He also functions as his own Dark Doppelgänger, and here’s why….

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Fan-Casting the Fellowship for Amazon’s Lord of the Rings TV Show

Despite being generally cynical about reboots, remakes and revisiting old, successful franchises, I actually have high hopes for Amazon’s upcoming Lord of the Rings TV show. A year ago maybe I wouldn’t have been. But with the success – both critical, commercial, and in terms of the fandoms themselves – of such reboots like Star Trek (2009), and franchise continuations like Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) and Rogue One (2016), my faith in revisiting favourite franchises has been restored.

I don’t know what period or part of Middle Earth this series will focus on, but I do love a good fan-cast. Geeks of Color are the paragons of the fancast (look no further than their superb Atlantis: The Lost Empire live action fancast), and their ever-stellar suggestions have inspired me to put together one myself (though I’m far from reaching their upper echelons of Fancasting Greatness). As much as I love the OG cast, it’s been over a decade and a half since the originals premiered, and so many new faces have joined the pantheon of the big and small screen since then, so let’s give someone else a chance. Crucially, I hope Amazon takes the opportunity to embrace the things that Tolkien’s tomes (and adaptations) have historically lacked: namely, diversity in terms of gender, race, and sexual orientation.

It’s with those criticisms in mind that I’ve put together my own dream-cast for the Fellowship & co. I’ve proposed male and female actors for each role, though I wasn’t aiming for two separate male and female-centric adaptations; rather, this new version should try to represent the diverse world we live in, using a fantasy lens, instead of filling the cast with the straight white male mould that historically dominated (and tainted) the fantasy genre. So, without an ado to be furthered, here are my choices for recasting the Lord of the Rings’ pivotal roles.

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A League of Their Own: Defending Justice League (2017)

Though I don’t deny Marvel’s unparalleled skill in multi-verse building, or the (critical and commercial) success of the films themselves, I personally don’t want them to have a monopoly over the entire comic book movie genre.  Yes, the DCEU has made myriad mistakes in its four-year tenure thus far – I despised Man of Steel’s maudlin self-importance, I avoided B v S at all costs, Suicide Squad is my personal problematic fave, and Wonder Woman is one of the best superhero films ever made (despite a troublesome, though triumphant, third act). And now Justice League, my new favourite superhero team-up movie. Yes, it’s not as structurally sound as Avengers Assemble, nor is it as plodding as Age of Ultron, and it never quite reaches the emotional heights of Civil War. But I loved it, and here’s why.

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‘What are we, some kind of Loser’s Club?’ Dream Duos & Squad Goals in Stranger Things Season 3

Stranger Things season 2 hit the dream duo jackpot with the unlikely team-up of Steve and Dustin. Now I have grand ideas for who should buddy up with who, but I know that there’s barely enough time to properly develop even one or two of these duos. If any of these come true, I will be a very happy fan – even if not, I’m happy with developing the pairs we already love. But, for what it’s worth, here’s my Season 3 Team-Up Wishlist (spoilers for Stranger Things season 1-2 ahead):

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