Looking younger than his 15 years but hardened by a life on the streets of 19th-century London, Billy accidentally befriends a monstrous man in this electrifying story set against the events of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.
Struggling to survive in Dickensian squalor, Billy—orphan, thief and former chimney sweep—has resorted to picking corpses’ pockets. No one is as surprised as Billy when his newest target wakes and saves Billy from vicious attackers. The rescuer’s frightful appearance masks an Austen-loving, French-speaking and vegetarian soul. Though perpetually repulsed by “Mister Creecher,” Billy agrees to spy upon Victor Frankenstein in exchange for protection. Pursuing Frankenstein and the promise of a female companion for Creecher, the unlikely duo follows the doctor out of London and into the untamed countryside, where they encounter grave robbers, circus sideshow performers and love. Creecher is often a more sympathetic character than Billy, but both figures evolve appreciably during their journey. Priestly combines a coming-of-age story with the gloomy atmosphere, moral dilemmas and slow pacing of Shelly’s classic and the grime and casual cruelty of Dickens’ Oliver Twist. Observant readers may also notice allusions to monster movies and Romantic poets.
By turns brooding and ghoulish, this old-fashioned gothic horror story is one lively read. (author’s note) (Fiction. 12 & up)