200 years after it was originally published, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein gets a fresh update in The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein by Kiersten White, a chilling new twist on the classic tale.
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.
So, let me start by making a confession. I know everyone likes to talk about how amazing Frankenstein is, and what an amazing accomplishment it was for a teenage Mary Shelley to write such an incredible book. But. After reading the book three different times — and studying it under three different teachers, including for a term-long class in college that focused solely on Frankenstein — I’ve come to the conclusion that the original book actually kind of sucks. Like, I pretty much hate Frankenstein.
But hating a book has never stopped me from diving into a retelling. I’m a glutton for punishment maybe? But really, I like seeing if a re-imagined version can capture for me something the original text failed to do. (And after three readings, I feel like I’ve given Frankenstein plenty of chances to wow me; it never has.) In this case, The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein redeemed the story for me in exciting ways.
The first half of the book was a bit slow for me — and I’m not surprised it was the most boring part for me, given that it’s the part of the book that most closely follows the original text. But even in this first half, what I really loved was: (1) Elizabeth’s willingness to do whatever it takes to survive and carve out a life of safety and security for herself, and (2) seeing all the ways she sneaks behind Victor’s back to protect him and, by proxy, herself.
The second half of the book is where things really got interesting for me. At one point, the plot takes a huge deviation from the original text of Frankenstein — and I was happy to see White believably explain why her retelling differs from the original book, while making the plot far more horrific and satisfying. I don’t want to give away too many spoilers, but — as Mary Shelley would first have us believe — the real monster isn’t really the “monster” as much as it is Frankenstein himself. White just takes that idea to a horrifying (and far more entertaining) level.
It’s this major twist — seriously, Victor is insane — that really made this book a success for me. In this way, White has turned what was really more of a book about social commentary into something that’s actually horror. (But like, not in a way that will keep you up at night. I’m an A-class weenie when it comes to horror, and I thoroughly enjoyed this one AND was able to go to sleep easily.)
And with Halloween just a couple weeks ago, now is the perfect time to revisit this classic story in a whole new light. The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein is in stores now.
KIERSTEN WHITE is the New York Times bestselling author of The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein, the And I Darken series, comprised of And I Darken, Now I Rise, and Bright We Burn; the Paranormalcy series; Slayer, and many more novels. She lives with her family near the ocean in San Diego, which, in spite of its perfection, spurs her to dream of faraway places and even further-away times. Visit her at http://www.kierstenwhite.com.
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