The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein by Kiersten White

It’s October, and as I do every year, I’m focusing on reading horror, ghost stories, and general scariness through the month as part of #screamathon on Litsy. So far I’ve read some good stuff, and this is one of them. Warning: possible mild spoilers ahead!

This gem is a retelling of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, but it starts with what most readers of the original understand—who the real monster is—and takes it up a few giant notches.

Elizabeth becomes our main character, and gets so much more personality and development. No longer just the doomed fiancé of Victor Frankenstein, Elizabeth is a smart, relentless young woman doing what she feels she must in order to secure a future for herself after being abused and used as a young child. She’s complex and at times infuriating, but she’s ultimately a heroine with her heart in the right place (no Frankenstein pun intended). She’s a protector and an advocate for other girls, and the additional of Mary the independent female bookseller, whose life becomes intertwined with Elizabeth’s, adds more girl power to the story.

This book is full of gothic creepiness and horror, but perhaps some of the scariest parts have to deal with just being a woman in the 18th century. That’s some terrifying stuff.

Victor is not just an obsessively brilliant man who takes his scientific experiments too far, he’s a psychopath with a god complex. Through Elizabeth’s memories, we see how disturbed he has been since childhood. Elizabeth, in a desperate attempt to make a place for herself in a world that offers no help for girls and women alone and without means, becomes an unwitting accomplice in his grown-up atrocities. Even Elizabeth, the closest person to Victor, has no idea how depraved he truly is.

The ‘monster’ Adam is even more blameless for the horrors taking place in the story than he was in Frankenstein. He’s got his own sort of backstory, as he’s made of up some unexpected ummm… parts. Since the story is told from Elizabeth’s POV, we are also spared the incessant whining of the poor creation. This was a plus for me. 😂

I admit that, as a reader, I was following along with the story running parallel to the original, and I was blown away (in a good way) when White took her novel in a very different direction. The first two-thirds of the book were ok, but the last third, where the author really begins to deviate from the source material, elevated it to something truly excellent.

Also, I LOVED the authors note—White clearly has the utmost respect for Shelley’s genius and the trailblazing she did for women and for science fiction in general. White took the absence of women in the original book and found her own story there. With much success, in my humble opinion.


Note: I listened to this book on audio, and highly recommend it. The narration by Katherine McEwan was excellent.

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