I was lucky to meet Kiersten White at BookCon this year. It was the first time I lined up for her autograph session as I knew I wanted to get an ARC of “The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein”.
As Kiersten was signing my copy of the book, I asked her why she had decided to pick up Frankenstein story for retelling. Kiersten was honest and said that it was the idea of her publisher. (Seems like every publisher is trying to milk the YA retellings crazy for as long as possible.)
I was very excited to read “The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein” as I love “Frankenstein” by Danny Boyle, the National Theatre production of 2011, in which Jonny Lee Miller and Benedict Cumberbatch alternated the roles of Victor Frankenstein and the Creature. As Halloween is approaching, NT Live will be doing encore screenings once again, so I recommend you check out their website, as this production is fantastic! I have seen both versions more than once and even mentioned the play to Kiersten.
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.
I started reading “The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein” on my train ride to New York City in early August. It is a relatively slim book, and I expected to be sucked into it immediately, but, to my utter surprise, it did not happen.
We get a lot of flashbacks into Elizabeth’s past - before the events of the book - and Victor’s childhood. Those scenes are essential for the plot, but I found them tedious to read. There was just too much description and not enough action for a good chunk of the book.
Elizabeth seemed obsessed with the idea that being useful to Victor was her only worth and her only way in life. Her obsession and fear of being tossed outside made her utterly oblivious to the fact that Victor is exhibiting all signs of psychopathy.
Even though “The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein” takes place at the time when women had little freedom, it is still unsettling to see her so fixated on Victor. From the very beginning, she positions herself as Victor’s partner in crime, but when she finally realizes that Victor is way past “a little eccentricity of character”, her shock is almost comical. I find it a bit ridiculous, to be honest, as the author spent pages of the story trying to convince readers that Elizabeth is brilliant and cunning. But in the end, she was as oblivious as everyone else.
I love the fact that “The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein” has a female protagonist at its core, but there was nothing about Elizabeth that made me connect with her as a character. I think it is the side characters that I liked the best. For example, Mary, who is obviously a “mary sue” version of Mary Shelley in the book. She is the only character whom I liked, and I was very happy about her part in the story.
I despised Victor, which surprised me as I usually like villains. I couldn’t help comparing Victor in “The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein” to Danny Boyle’s Victor. Both versions were brilliant and cold-hearted scientists, but Kiersten’s Victor was unwilling to see his wrongdoings.
I liked the second half of the book way more, as it was when the action really started to happen. However, I still felt let down by “The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein” and its promise of a historical horror retelling. It is a well-written book but could have benefitted from more plot development, in my opinion.