This reading group guide for The Sinister Mystery of the Mesmerizing Girl includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.Introduction
Join our mailing list!
Get our latest staff recommendations, Indie Next picks and exclusive offers of ARCs and galleys right to your inbox.
The members of the Athena Club are familiar with Ayesha and know the story of how she gained her awesome powers as a young woman in ancient Egypt. But as Mary, Justine, and Diana rush home to England to rescue Alice, who has disappeared from 11 Park Terrace, they have no idea that their foe is inextricably linked to Ayesha and her past. For, unbeknownst to Mary and the others, Alice has been taken by her mother, Helen Raymond, as part of a dastardly plot to raise Ayesha’s former high priestess from the dead. And that’s only the first step of the plan, as a mysterious group of villains calling themselves The Order of the Golden Dawn intends to take over Great Britain with the help of mesmeric powers, a kidnapped queen, and the unbelievable powers of the revived high priestess, Queen Tera.
To complicate matters further, Sherlock Holmes is missing, having fallen prey to his archnemesis, Moriarty. So as Mary attempts to find both Alice and Holmes, she must do so without the assistance of the one man who could be most useful. As the entire Athena Club—including Lucinda—converge on London, it becomes obvious that they must travel to the shore and risk their lives to save their friends, the Queen of England, and their very country. But are their combined powers enough to defeat the might of Queen Tera? And will they be forced to sacrifice something they love in order to save the world from an awful fate?Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. Why do you think the book is dedicated to Mary Shelley? Were mothers important to the members of the Athena Club? What did their mothers have to do with their monstrosity?
2. As Justine returns to London, she contemplates Adam’s death and her life with the Athena Club with a sense of peace and a seeming air of contentment. Is it wrong of her to feel this release at Adam’s death? Could she have found the same feeling if he were still alive? Do all the other members of the Athena Club feel this same contentment? If not, what prevents them from feeling it?
3. Beatrice feels that “it would be good for Clarence to fall in love with someone else . . . only not Ayesha. One could not compete with someone like Ayesha.” [p.21] What does she mean by this statement? Why would she be in competition with any other woman that Clarence loved? Why does she feel that she needs to push Clarence away? Is she committed to doing this?
4. Why must Lucinda learn to hunt, instead of just having blood brought to her? Does the understanding that she must kill to survive help her during the course of the story? Does her vampirism make her more monstrous than the other members of the Athena Club?
5. Upon returning to London, Mary muses that she “had come home, but she was not the same Mary who had left—not quite.” [p. 31] Is it simply the act of traveling that has changed Mary, or are there other influences that contributed to this change? Is this the only change that Mary—or any of her friends—have gone through in the course of this trilogy?
6. According to Diana, what makes a person dull? Does Mary fall into this category? Why is Diana so hard on the other members of the Athena Club? Do their responses to her represent their true feelings toward her?
7. When Alice meets Dr. Seward for the first time, she thinks “Strange, that evil should look so bland.” [p.87] Is this true of all the evil people that they encounter? How does this blandness help evil men accomplish their dastardly deeds? Do our heroines look bland? Knowing the morals of each group, which one would you expect to look more distinctive?
8. What is the ultimate goal of the Order of the Golden Dawn? Why do they feel so strongly that they are right in pursuing this goal? Do Miss Trelawny, Mrs. Raymond, and Queen Tera have a different purpose in attempting to take over the government?
9. Why does Miss Trelawny warn the Order about risking their lives for the “power and wisdom of ancient Egypt?” [p. 115] Is she truly concerned about their safety? Does her warning in any way release her from responsibility for what happens during the ritual?
10. Mary has found that all the prostitutes she has met are “simply ordinary women trying to get by without family to support them, or friends to offer them help, or the training required for more respectable employment.” [p.123] Was Mary—or were any of the members of the Athena Club—ever in danger of having to become a prostitute? What other opportunities were available to women at the time? Has that changed in our day and age?
11. Moriarty reminds Alice of a preacher who had visited the orphanage while she was there. In what ways is this an apt comparison? Is there anyone else in the story for whom this comparison is apt?
12. What aspects of Ayesha’s experience make her stand in opposition to Queen Tera? Would a younger Ayesha have made this same decision? Does her experience make her a good leader, or does it, as Beatrice says, make her so she “no longer understands human morality” and needs to be reminded of “the need for empathy and compassion?” [p.163]
13. After hearing Ayesha’s story, Catherine thinks that it must be terrible to never grow old or die. Why does Catherine think this? Would Ayesha agree with her? There are other immortal characters in the book, or at least characters who will live far longer than normal humans . . . would they agree with Catherine?
14. As she tries to get into the Diogenes Club, Mary thinks that “she wanted to be just a little more like Irene—smarter, bolder, more courageous.” [p.187] She is not the only character who tries to emulate another—Alice tries to act more like Mary, and Laura travels across Europe in a motorcar in an attempt to be more like Carmilla. Why do each of these characters want to take on the traits of others? Do they already exhibit any of the characteristics they seek to emulate? How do you think Irene, Mary, and Carmilla would feel to know that the others were trying to be more like them?
15. Why does Mary hesitate to hold Beatrice’s hand while they walk along the causeway? Where does Beatrice think the hesitation comes from? What does it mean to Beatrice when Mary takes her hand without hesitation? Does the friendship of the Athena Club mean different things to the different members?
16. What is Alice’s relationship to her mother? In what ways is it similar to, and in what ways is it different from Helen’s relationship to her father? How did Helen’s death change Alice’s feelings toward her? Can Justine and Lucinda truly understand Alice’s feelings about losing her mother?
17. What is Sherlock Holmes’ role in this story? How does it differ from the part he usually plays, either in this trilogy, or in other stories about him? What does his change in agency mean for the other characters?Enhance Your Book Club
1. Egyptology and the archeological fever of the period play an important role in the story. Research one aspect of these subjects that interests you, and report your findings back to the group. Mummification, important archeological finds, the history of women in archeology, Egyptian burial rituals, or legendary curses are just some of the topics you could choose.
2. Beatrice finds it difficult to believe how little the general public knows about the plants that surround them, particularly when it comes to medicinal and poisonous plants. Take a walk through a local park or wooded area, foraging for edible or medicinal plants that you can use in your everyday life. Be sure to consult a detailed botany book or a local expert to ensure that you don’t confuse an edible plant with a poisonous one! Alternatively, you could plant some useful, medicinal plants in your yard or garden and begin using them in a purposeful way.
3. The Order of the Golden Dawn takes a very strong anti-immigration stance, even going so far as to champion eugenics. We are currently facing a very strong anti-immigration sentiment, not just in the United States, but in many other countries as well. Divide into two groups and stage a debate between pro- and anti-immigration factions. It could be interesting to join the side that does not share your beliefs, and see if you can reach a better understanding of their position.
4. Alice sometimes has trouble viewing the other members of the Athena Club as her peers, since she was (well) trained by Mrs. Poole to be a servant in Mary’s household. Find one of the many books, movies, or television shows that deal with the division between the upper class and their servants (Downton Abbey; The Remains of the Day; Upstairs, Downstairs;
etc.), and compare the attitudes you find there to the situation at 11 Park Terrace.