My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Length: 304 pages
Release date: 25 September 2018
Elizabeth Lavenza hasn’t had a proper meal in weeks. Her thin arms are covered with bruises from her “caregiver,” and she is on the verge of being thrown into the streets . . . until she is brought to the home of Victor Frankenstein, an unsmiling, solitary boy who has everything–except a friend.
Victor is her escape from misery. Elizabeth does everything she can to make herself indispensable–and it works. She is taken in by the Frankenstein family and rewarded with a warm bed, delicious food, and dresses of the finest silk. Soon she and Victor are inseparable.
But her new life comes at a price. As the years pass, Elizabeth’s survival depends on managing Victor’s dangerous temper and entertaining his every whim, no matter how depraved. Behind her blue eyes and sweet smile lies the calculating heart of a girl determined to stay alive no matter the cost . . . as the world she knows is consumed by darkness.
Red leaves. Red knife. Red hands. But white dresses, always.
I’m a big fan of Mary Shelley. At age 19 most of us are stumbling around uni trying to figure out how to get a refund when the Circuit Laundry app eats our money (hint: you can’t). Meanwhile Mary was inventing science fiction. No big deal.
Her general coolness, combined with the absolute I-know-what-it-is-to-be-alive perfection called Bright We Burn, sent my expectations for Kiersten White’s gorgeously covered, intriguingly titled retelling through the roof. You can see where this is going: As much as The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein is a cruel, twisty play on the classic story, it’s a tiny disappointment compared to what I was anticipating.
Kiersten White is one of my favourite authors, so I’m going to spend the rest of this review making up for my initial lack of enthusiasm by highlighting everything that’s great about it. First, the atmosphere. I did NOT expect White to go as far as she did in twisting the story, and I admire the dark direction. It’s at least as creepy as the original, more so in many ways. Because no matter what anguishes and trials of his own making he goes through, Shelley’s Victor Frankenstein is when it comes down to it a privileged white man in 18th century Western Europe. The world is his playground.
That’s just not the case for White’s Elizabeth Lavenza, who in addition to a sci-fi monster has to contend with being nearly powerless in a society that sees her as an empty, dutiful designated bride. Thought Victor had it bad? Elizabeth’s constant battle against being dismissed scared me more than any botched attempt to create life.
I used smiles like currency. They were the only currency I ever had.
If it’s not yet obvious, this book is an unashamedly feminist retelling to the core. It does that in a very different way from The Conqueror’s Saga, with far more subtlety and agonising resignation. In temperament and methods, Elizabeth could not be more different from Lada, but in their steely resolve they could be sisters.
Elizabeth finds her best chance at a better life and grabbed it with both hands. It’s exhausting following her POV the whole novel, being in her head 100% of the time. She’s performing 24/7, playing the perfect role 24/7, and in the end she gives so much in return for so little. Kiersten White captures her chosen protagonist’s concealed frustration just so.
I loved the many dark little twists. There’s this sense of unease throughout the story, as if something is very wrong and you can’t tell just what. Rightly so–this is not the classic Frankenstein as you know it. I can’t presume to know what Mary Shelley would think of this retelling, but I can imagine that her mother might cheer.