Review: The City of Dr Moreau by JS Barnes

This is a very engaging expansion of the world of Dr Moreau, though it does suffer somewhat from the perennial problem for stories that rely heavily on huge time jumps: is it a novel, or a gathering of short stories? Barnes does a lot of work to scaffold the connectedness of these stories, but it’s precisely this heavy-handedness with cementing this as a novel that detracts from enjoying the varied and inventive stories on their own merits.

Revisiting the Frankenstein themes of the original, the book leads us through an arch, if slightly inconsequential backstory to Moreau’s escape to the island, before moving to the far more meaty parallel story of a mystery beneath the mystery of the island itself, and then a far more meaningful look at free will and consequence in the jump to the modern day, following a unique assassin on a train.

There is a grand gallery of characters on show throughout, and Barnes shows equal attention and respect to each, augmenting his stories with a chorus of voices, but in the gaps between timelines, this can make following the overall novel thread much harder.

Not an easy book, but the author’s enthusiasm for the subject and the world means it never lacks for vitality or colour, and is a great addition to the mythology of the original. Recommended.

Thanks to Titan Books for allowing me to see an advance copy.

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