Tag Archives: Frankenstein

This Monstrous Thing

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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.

The Apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein (series)

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Best. Titles. EVER. Kenneth Oppel’s gothic two book series starts with This Dark Endeavour and ends with Such Wicked Intent.  How can you not want to read them?  Never have I wanted a series to go on and on so badly!   (I will probably say that often, but it is true. Every. Single. Time.)

Victor Frankenstein lives a charmed life in the family chateau with his  twin brother Konrad and cousin Elizabeth.  Along with their close friend Henry, they study their lessons and explore the mountains surrounding their home.  They also spend time exploring their ancient chateau, endless corridors and half forgotten rooms, no place off limits to them.  Except the Dark Library, home to books full of mystery and magic.  Which of course, makes it a very enticing place to Victor.

When Konrad falls deathly ill, Victor broaches the Dark Library,  searching for answers to his sickness. His intense all consuming desire to save his brother’s life leads him down a path that will eventually end in Mary Shelley’s gothic classic.  This series explores alchemy and the supernatural, obsession and love, a romance that grips the reader and does not let go.

Victor is a wonderful character, a normal yet troubled teen, one with all the trappings of noble bloodlines and inherited wealth.  He is stubborn, arrogant and rash, yet you still root for him.  There were times I wanted to grab him by the shoulders and shake some sense into him.  Konrad is gentle and kind and intelligent, immensely likeable, but you know from page one about whom the story revolves.  His parents have high expectations for their offspring and niece, showing the examples hard work and courtly behaviour in all instances.  In his upbringing and deportment, and then his increasingly erratic and obsessive behaviour, you can see in Victor the man who will be Frankenstein.

Both books are beautifully written, with absolutely incredible character development.  No words are wasted on unnecessary description. The last 30-ish pages of  Such Wicked Intent were impossible to put down; I was a wee bit late picking my kids up from school that day. (Thank goodness the admin are easily bribed with good book recommendations!)

Oppel leaves the reader wanting more, and deliberately so.  His prequel homage to Shelley is beautiful in its imagery and language, and readers of the original will not be disappointed.  (I LOVE Shelley’s Frankenstein). The ending has promise of yet another installment, an epic cliff-hanger.  Will there be one?  I have been haunting Oppel’s website for ages now, waiting!

Great for teens who like classic horror novels.

This Dark Endeavour and Such Wicked Intent are published by Harper Collins Publishers Ltd.