The Mountains of Instead

Championing fiction as an escape from pandemics, politics and bad TV.

In Which A Girl Is Not So Much Bad As Vaguely Naughty (Review: Jekel Loves Hyde by B. Fantaskey)

Jekel Love Hyde
Beth Fantaskey
Harcourt 2010
Jill Jekel has always obeyed her parents’ rules – especially the one about never opening the mysterious, old box in her father’s office. But when her dad is murdered, and her college savings disappear, she's tempted to peek inside, as the contents might be key to a lucrative chemistry scholarship. To better her odds, Jill enlists the help of gorgeous, brooding Tristen Hyde, who has his own dark secrets locked away. As the team of Jekel and Hyde, they recreate experiments based on the classic novel, hoping not only to win a prize, but to save Tristen’s sanity. Maybe his life. But Jill’s accidental taste of a formula unleashes her darkest nature and compels her to risk everything – even Tristen’s love – just for the thrill of being… bad.
(Blurb courtesy of Goodreads)

I won a lovely signed copy of this book from Kristi over at The Story Siren, and jolly excited about it I was too. I absolutely love The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (you can't not if you're from Edinburgh, really) and enjoy re-tellings so expected to like this...and I sort of did. And then I sort of didn't. It is very much a book of two halves. The central conceit is that Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde really existed and that our protagonists, Jill Jekel and Tristan Hyde are their direct descendent's.  Our two budding scientists resolve to create the lost formula of the original tale in order to cure Tristan of his less savory character traits. This idea works surprisingly well – the pair work under the guise of a chemistry competition so there is no endless expositioning (a personal bugbear of mine) on how they manage to get their hands on the necessary equipment or lab facilities. The writing is lovely with several subtle nods to the language used by Robert Louis Stevenson – just the odd slightly archaic phrasing here or old-fashioned line of dialogue there. I loved it, and found that it actually aligned well with the contemporary setting rather than sitting incongruously against the high school teen-speak.

The story is told by both Jill and Tristan, following the recent trend for duel narrators in YA fiction (no complaints from me, I love hearing both sides of the story).
Jill doesn't fit the usual mold when it comes to female protagonists – she is neither snarky, tough and popular, nor beautiful, delicate and dreamy. Instead, she is a classic wallflower. She wears frumpy clothes, is not blessed with exceptional beauty and seems to be pretty shy. At first I found this refreshing but not for long as, sadly, she is also a bit of a doormat. Her best friend treats her appallingly and while Jill seems pretty aware of this, she just lets it happen. She is such a frightened little rabbit and I spent much of the novel waiting for her to turn “bad” as promised in the blurb. More on that later... 

Tristan, conversely, is nothing that we haven't seen before. Dark, brooding, gorgeous with a troubled past and terrible secret? Yep, that's him. It works for him, though, and he plays the piano which works for me (one day I am going to write a whole post on hot boy characters who play the piano, starting with Sebastian from the Sadler's Wells series who was my first true love). I'm not sure that I entirely bought into his attraction to Jill – while I could see why she would have a huge crush on him, his sudden love was a little too sudden to be believable. Still, their burgeoning relationship was suitably heady and romantic in an old-fashioned, swoony sort of way and was fun to read.

My main issue with the book started once Jill took a swig of the “bad” formula. My impression, from the blurb, was that she would go totally of the rails and Tristan would have to fight to get her back. I liked the idea of the tale being turned on it's head like this and was also getting pretty tired of goody-two-shoes Jill by this point. The thing is, she just doesn't get that bad and the formula wears off pretty quickly. Yes, she gets a bit racy, yes, she loses her inhibitions and....gasp....she gets her ears pierced (!!!) but it's all over pretty quickly and she reverts to her mouse-like little self. It didn't seem all that relevant to the overarching story, which after this point falls a bit flat. The ending was extremely rushed and not hugely satisfying and the epilogue was exceptionally trite and twee. The build up to them creating the famous formula is far more interesting than the after-effects, which is a shame as there was such a lot of potential. However, all plot points were tied up and we do get to see what happens to our main characters after the final showdown, which was nice I suppose (nice, in this case, meaning a bit unrealistic and, quite frankly, vomit inducing).

I read this book in one sitting, it only took me a couple of hours and was certainly a pleasant enough, light read for an evening in the garden. As a fun, contemporary companion to the original I think it's passable – especially if it gets people interested in having a look at a classic horror story from a great writer, so pick it up and have a look. Just make sure you pick up The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde too.


Unknown said…
LOL! What an amazing and frankly rather funny review! I am still laughing from your comment about her getting her ears pierced. Up until that point I was thinking this sounds great but oh dear, what a shame that it failed to reach the dizziness levels of darkness that the blurb promised. I think I'll pass although I do love the RLS original. Read that at uni and thought it was the bees knees. Great review. Hey, I'm still grinning!
Nomes said…
nice review. I really enjoyed reading it and concur on what you said :)

I havent read the classic, so I found it interesting you said some parts had a bit of that feel. I did think Tristen spoke very formally, but she defended that in the book - I didnt mind it :)

x Naomi
I thoroughly enjoyed reading your review. I have to admit that although I'm familiar with the original classic, I haven't read it,but even so, would probably only read this if I picked it up at the library or if it was passed my way.

P.S. I also love hot, broody boys who play the piano :) And yes, you should do a post about it. *grins*
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