“I would lie silent and still, like a corpse, as he studied me. His careful, delicate hands explored all the bones and tendons, the muscles and tracings of veins that make up a person. “But where is Elizabeth?” he would ask, his ear against my heart. “Which part makes you?” I had no answer, and neither did he.”
― Kiersten White, The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein
It’s been 200 years since Mary Shelley penned Frankenstein, and since then there have been countless homages to her work. The latest of these is a young adult retelling by Kiertsen White titled, The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein. Much like the source material, it’s a dark and creepy tale that makes us wonder what it means to be truly monstrous. Here’s a quick synopsis . . .
Elizabeth Lavenza is a beautiful orphan, living in squalor and suffering at the hands of an abusive caretaker. When Elizabeth is introduced to Victor Frankenstein, a wealthy, but deeply unusual boy, it seems her luck is set to change. Though Victor is undoubtedly brilliant, the Frankensteins worry about his dark temperament, thus they decide to take Elizabeth in as a ward, hoping that her influence will help to “soften” their son. Elizabeth knows her position in the Frankenstein home is precarious, so she does all she can to win Victor’s love. Even if that means keeping his secrets and hiding the evidence of some of his less savoury scientific experiments.
As a massive fan of both Mary Shelley and Kiersten White, I was very excited for this book, and I am pleased to say that it did not disappoint. There are so many things that I love about The Dark Descent that I don’t even know where to begin writing this review. However, I think what appeals to me most about the book is how true it feels to the spirit of the original Frankenstein. Both books are dark, haunting and at times, disturbing. Though White has taken many liberties with the plot of Frankenstein, particularly towards the end of the book, her creation seems to me like something Shelley would be proud of.
While White has maintained the atmosphere of Frankenstein, she has also brought a sense of modernity to her work. Much like White’s The Conqueror’s Saga, this novel has a distinctly feminist vibe. White has taken Elizabeth, who was very much a side character in the original, and placed her front and centre. In Frankenstein, we didn’t learn an awful lot about Elizabeth, she is described as sweet and docile, dedicated to “the happiness of others, entirely forgetful of herself.” Ultimately, she was a simple character whose one purpose in life was to make Victor happy. White has taken this idea and ran with it, exploring Elizabeth’s backstory and providing her with a cunning mind, well hidden beneath her placid demeanour. As such, the version of Elizabeth we see in The Dark Descent is a far more well rounded and interesting character than she was in the original.
I don’t know that I’d necessarily recommend this book to those who haven’t read Frankenstein, though of course it will still make perfect sense to anyone who isn’t familiar with the source material. It’s just that so much of what I, personally, loved about the book is how White has taken a seemingly one dimensional character and given her a story of her own. I feel like readers will appreciate what White has done with the character so much more if they’re familiar with the original Elizabeth. However, if you haven’t read Frankenstein, but you do love creepy stories, historical settings, and a fiercely intelligent heroine, you’re still likely to enjoy this gorgeous book. I absolutely adored it, so I’m giving The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein 5/5 stars.