Well, talk about a book hangover. The Serpent King gave me the worst one I have ever suffered, with three DNFs following that novel. But I have found the cure: an awesome, clever, original, steampunk retelling of Frankenstein.
Alasdair Finch is a Shadow Boy, one of the illegal group of craftsmen that build and maintain the clockwork parts some people need to survive. Legs, arms, even lungs and hearts. The clockwork people, known as Frankenstein, live shunned by society that thinks them less than human. And one horrible night in Geneva, in 1816, Alasdair loses the only three things that matter to him: his older brother Oliver dies, his secret love Mary leaves, and with their loss, his chance to escape his smothering life in the city and study at the university is gone.
Alasdair does the unimaginable. He resurrects Oliver. But it is not as simple as replacing bones and adding gears. Oliver’s clockwork heart beats and his oil paper lungs breathe, but he is a misshapen shadow of his former self, with few memories and a violent temper. Alasdair must keep him hidden, for his own safety, and the safety of the city. In the process, Mary disappears. Forever.
But two years on, Alasdair receives a package containing a book with a title but no author: Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus. And it is his story. His, and Oliver’s. And the book sparks a rebellion.
I have been reading a lot of retellings lately, and the good ones all have a couple of things in common: they pay tribute to the original and add unexpected twists and innovative elements to keep readers enthralled. Author Mackenzi Lee does just that.
Alasdair is a fabulous main character. He is a mechanical and medical genius, curious and intuitive, but severely lacking in emotional skills. It is perhaps his youth, or maybe being blinded by first love, but he misses a LOT of what, to others, would appear obvious. He is selfish in his need to resurrect Oliver, then selfish again in his desire to free himself from his obligation to his brother. But he is also capable of growth; he faces his fears and inadequacies and, in the end, stands up for what is right and just.
It is difficult to call Oliver and Mary and Clemence and Geisler secondary characters when they are beautifully alive and so central to the story. Mary is selfish and awful and true to life, Clemence is independent and vulnerable, Geisler is pure obsessive evil, and Oliver is a wonderful mirror for Alasdair’s own conflict.
The plot echoes the original’s creation myth, adding steampunk clockwork and weaving in Shelley’s real-life exploits. It is about humans and monsters, and how often they are two sides of the same coin.
The world that Lee creates shows that she has clearly done her research. The literary references, the university, the attitudes, the cities and the people, are true to the period and the original. While Lee massages a few facts and timing to make her reimagining work, and the clockwork people are products of her amazing imagination, the overall feeling of the novel is authentic and reflective of the then societal fear of a rapidly changing world.
And that cover. OH, that cover. Gorgeous and creepy and gothic and so promising of a story that will chill you to your bones.
This novel is appropriate for all ages, and is a must-read for a fan of the original.
This Monstrous Thing was published September 22nd, 2015 by Katherine Tegen Books.