I reread Frankenstein recently and am on a quest to read all the retellings! And this one proved to be a thought-provoking, feminist Frankenstein-inspired story with a twist.
While not a retelling, per se, this story took characters and ideas from the original novel as a springboard and twisted them in really interesting ways to form something new and really highlight some of the thought-provoking aspects of the original. Our main character was Elizabeth, our love interest Victor, except, in this story, Victor was the monster. He was a bio-mechanical—a reanimated corpse, usually made of stitched-together parts from various different bodies, although Victor was mostly intact with just the arm of a stranger to replace his mangled one.
The characters were well-written with flaws but also good qualities. My favorite was Byram because of his dry humor and support of Lizzie. I liked Jack too, despite his small role. Lizzie was the protagonist though, and I loved that she was intelligent, strong-willed, and determined. She didn’t let the sexism and all the obstacles in her way stop her from chasing after her goals, which made this a fantastically feminist book. Buuuuuut she could also be so self-assured and focused on trying to succeed that she was uncaring toward patients and didn’t listen to them, and she butted her head into things that’s weren’t her business which put not only herself but also others in danger. So she could be frustrating, but she was realistically flawed (which I like), and she did get called out on a lot of her behaviors by other characters.
Although the pace of the plot was slow, I found myself engrossed by the story. There was so much great stuff going on—mystery, friendship, bio-mechanicals, sinister plans. Oddly enough, I wasn’t all that into the romance (though it was plenty believable)—I was more interested in what was going on with the school and the professors, what exactly had happened to Victor, how it would all impact Lizzie, etc.
I had one main issue though. There were a some threads left hanging, things I didn’t quite understand, and things I wanted to know more about. It was like so many of those mysterious/sinister parts of the plot about the school just got dropped. According to the author, there’s going to be another book that continues the story (albeit with the focus on different characters), so hopefully these will still get addressed. Maybe someone who’s finished the book can help me in case I just missed some things? *SPOILER* Will didn’t believe Victor was still in there at first, but what was their relationship like by the end of the book? Did Victor ever speak to Henry? Makepeace’s heart attack was oddly perfectly timed—was it really a heart attack? (I was rooting for Igor to save the day, to be honest.) Were the professors murdering people for their parts? Why was Lizzie ok with all the shady stuff and totally trusting of Grimbauld and Moulsdale at the end? Why were Grimbauld and Moulsdale ok with Lizzie and her friends knowing their secrets? What exactly was the story behind Victor’s murder? (I was confused by Henry’s explanation.) How did Lizzie end up with a white streak in her hair if Makepeace didn’t actually do anything to her? How did Justine end up with telepathy? *END SPOILER*
One other thing I wanted to mention is that Lizzie thought about how Byram was so attractive that he wouldn’t even be friends with her if it weren’t for his bad foot bringing him down to her level. She mentioned something similar about some boy she had a crush on and got to know while he was ill. I didn’t like the implication that having a disability brings a person’s value down. I chocked it up to just being Lizzie’s beliefs as a product of the time she lived in, but I wanted to point it out so readers could be aware of this kind of thing not just in this book but in life in general.
Last but not least, I wanted to talk about the thought-provoking aspect of this book. I mentioned that Victor was entirely intact except for having someone else’s arm. That one little arm, however, had a big impact. *SPOILER* Victor’s arm kind of had a mind of its own at first, and Victor had some memories of the person the arm belonged to. Later in the story, that other person ended up taking over the body for a short while, and eventually they kind of learned to coincide together, Victor remaining in charge but borrowing on Jack’s traits when he needed them. *END SPOILER* I loved that the author used that to explore the concept of souls and memories and whether our body parts retain a bit of ourselves if they’re kept alive after the rest of our body has died. I’ve heard stories, for example, about people who got heart transplants and then started acting like the person the heart originally belonged to, and things like that make me wonder. When we die, if some part of our body remains alive, does part of our soul, or maybe some imprint of it, remain with it? Or in cases like the heart transplants, is there a scientific explanation? (I did read something about cell memory.) But in the case of fictional Frankenstein stories, if someone is reanimated, do they get their soul back? What if they’re composed from the parts of a whole bunch of people, do they even get a soul? A whole bunch of souls? Maybe that’s why the other bio-mechanicals were mindless—they were confused by having too many souls in one body. This book doesn’t go in-depth into any of this, nor does it force any belief on the reader, but it’s definitely an interesting part of the story.
As for the audio, I struggle with audiobooks in general, but I thought Saskia Maarleveld did a wonderful job. She read in a way that sounded normal rather than overdramatic, and she did men’s voices well and made them sound natural with proper inflection and emotion (those are the two things I usually have the biggest issue with).
Overall, this book gripped me with its mysteriousness and its feminism and its unique twist on the Frankenstein story, and hopefully those loose threads will be wrapped up in the next book!
Readers who like Frankenstein retellings, feminist characters, mysterious plots, and thought-provoking reads.