Completely by chance, I picked up and read two books inspired by Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein this week. As Frankenstein stories go, neither of them came close to achieving the heights of Kenneth Oppel’s This Dark Endeavor or Veronica Bennett’s Angelmonster, but they’ll each appeal to certain audiences.
I wrote about A.E. Rought’s Broken—a modernization of the Frankenstein story set in a modern-day high school—at length over at Bookshelves of Doom. As my review wasn’t particularly glowing, I won’t repeat myself here, other than to highly recommend it to diehard Twilight fans: There are a whole lot of similarities, both in terms of storyline and prose stylings.
Suzanne Weyn’s Dr. Frankenstein’s Daughters, meanwhile, is a sequel-of-sorts to Mary Shelley’s novel. It begins in 1815, shortly after the death of Victor Frankenstein. His will reveals that he secretly had twin daughters—via his also-secret first wife, Hildy—but left them to be raised in Germany by his dead wife’s widower father (got that?) due to the Monster’s threats. Until they are informed of their inheritance, 16-year-olds Giselle and Ingrid have no idea that they are not only the daughters of one of their era’s most notorious figures, but also nobility.
So off they go to Castle Frankenstein! Sparsely populated Gairsay Island—one of Scotland’s Orkney Islands—is windswept and barren, and not exactly the hub of upper-crust society, but the girls rapidly get invested in their surroundings: Giselle throws herself into bringing the castle to its former glory, while Ingrid falls head-over-heels in love with their neighbor, an ailing former officer of the Royal British Army.
And here’s where the shades of Frankenstein factor in! Ingrid discovers her father’s notebooks and becomes convinced that she can not only save Walter’s life, but completely cure him...which is a good thing, right? But as she works her way towards a scientific breakthrough, everywhere the sisters go—especially gentle Giselle, whose life and virtue is threatened again and again and again—people wind up missing or dead....
There are lots of tidbits about the scientific research of the time, as well as some fun cameos (including, yes, Lord Byron and the Shelleys), and in her Author’s Note, Weyn gives a nice breakdown of what was pulled from Shelley, what was pulled from history and what was pulled from her own imagination. It’s an easy-going read, almost entirely told in entries from Ingrid’s journal and Giselle’s diary, and the ultimate solution to the murder mystery is big, big fun. While the book has some seriously problematic aspects (see below), younger fans of creepy historicals may well enjoy it.
Issue #1: Much of the book reads like this: I did this, and this is why I did it. I said this (in this way), and this is why I said it (in this way). I felt this, and this is why I felt it. Basically, there is a whole lot of telling and not much showing. Because of that, not only does the Big Declaration of Lurrrve come out of absolutely nowhere, it also has no emotional impact.
Issue #2: The characters don’t always act in believable ways. Two girls inherit a castle and DON’T BOTHER EXPLORING IT from top to bottom? They don’t ask their uncle for any sort of background about the place (not to mention himself, or their father) before moving to an entirely different country with him? The supposedly brilliant Ingrid gets ahold of a mysterious key, and she can’t figure out what it opens for THREE ENTIRE DAYS even though there is ONLY ONE LOCKED DOOR?
Issue #3: The often-clunky dialogue—complete with lots of exposition—reads like it has been scripted, rather than spoken, so it’s never really possible to forget about the author and believe wholeheartedly in the story or the characters.
If those three issues have scared you off, but you’d still like something Frankenstein-y, I highly recommend Angelmonster. It didn’t get nearly enough attention when it came out, and Mary Shelley totally had one of those true-is-stranger-than-fiction lives.
If she isn't writing Bookshelves of Doom or doing her librarian thing, Leila Roy is probably curled up by the woodstove, reading.