The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein by Kiersten White
Delacorte Press (September 2018)
304 pages; $8.27 hardcover; $19.99 paperback; $10.99 e-book
Reviewed by Sadie Hartmann
What a treat that a signed hardback copy of this book showed up in my mailbox just a few weeks before I learned that Kiersten White had won the 2018 Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in a YA Horror novel. Hearing such glowing reviews made me eager to read this popular retelling of a classic, horror favorite.
Seventeen-year-old orphan Elizabeth Lavenza finds herself rescued from a life of uncertainty when she is given to a wealthy family in the hopes that she will be a comrade for their unusual son, Victor Frankenstein. White tells the story of this exchange through Elizabeth’s real time narrative and periodic flashbacks.
I enjoyed how the story snippets from the past consistently closed the gap between the drama that was currently unfolding and the circumstances that led up to them. I have read Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein twice and I’m a huge fan of the 1930s movie, so I’m familiar with the story. It was a pleasant surprise that even devout fans of Frankenstein could read this story and feel like it had originality and a fresh perspective.
Almost immediately I started developing some theories as to what was going on, and these guesses kept my curiosity piqued as I rabidly turned the pages to see if my hunch was correct.
Our main protagonist, Elizabeth, is complicated. In some ways, her flaws irritate the reader. She seems preoccupied with her own self-preservation to the point of playing the fool for Victor just to keep her good standing with the Frankenstein family. But in other ways, I admire her resolve and her determination to boldly pursue that which she truly wants.
Victor Frankenstein is a gothic horror lover’s dream character! I absolutely devoured all the scenes he was in. His character arc is expertly evolved over the span of the novel. We get to make discoveries about Victor only through his closest confidant and partner, Elizabeth. It’s fascinating to experience all of Victor’s narcissism through Elizabeth’s naiveté and patiently wait for something to happen that will change the entire course of the story. It’s that tension between what the reader already knows to be true and what the characters still need to find out that makes this book hard to put down.
My only complaint was that there were a few chapters that felt like filler—a little bit of a long detour that doubled back just to return to the same point of climax. Also, I wish some more time was spent in Victor’s laboratories, but I do understand the focus was intentionally on Elizabeth this time. White did a great job writing interesting characters; even the supporting ones like Justine, Henry and Mary were given unique personalities and voices.
I loved the ending, the epilogue and the author’s notes. Kiersten White is a delight and I can’t wait to read another of her books.