The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein by Kiersten White was my first read of 2019! It was a birthday gift from BG friends and I dove in immediately.
“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.”
To start, this book is fucked up.
The concept is what is the story of the sidekick – we know Victor and his story told different ways over and over – but what about the people who facilitated his madness? In that context, Elizabeth is insanely frustrating. You can nearly feel the constraints of society and her position holding back this brilliant, almost cruel, young woman. What she would be in that time if she were a man is heartbreaking. Still, you see her manipulate the expectations of her position to find her own kind of power. There are parts that are meant to make you feel an aversion to Elizabeth – the way she has of looking at and evaluating people for their usefulness to her – but that same trait makes it even more devastating when the things she does care about are hurt or damaged. Elizabeth is complicated – and she’s also very young. Some of the things she does betray a kind of naivete that makes her lovable, even at her most terrible.
Victor is a total dickwad. He is an amalgam of all the worst kinds of abusive men in this world and honestly, doesn’t get what he deserved in the end. That might be my own bloodthirst talking though. Actually most of the human men in this book are total dickwads, and some meet fairly grisly ends. It’s kind of satisfying even if that also makes me a monster. The women in the book are treated accurately for the time period – as objects and achievements. It’s fun to see the many different ways in which that expectation can be ignored from Elizabeth, Justine, and Mary. All three have been hurt by the world they were born into, and all three found ways to be happy even if the happiness was short-lived or intermittent.
This book is relatively short, which is, I think, one of it’s few frustrations. The ending felt a little rushed and I didn’t get time to settle with certain events or characters before it was quite suddenly over. Hints are dropped in the last few chapters that make the twist a little more obvious, but I wanted more time.
If you already like Kiersten White, you’re going to like this book. If you like books with complicated, dynamic women, you’re going to like this book. If you really deeply love the original Frankenstein, I don’t know if you’ll like this book. The book is well-written, sharp, cruel, and accusatory. It’s also a little bit gross so if you have issues with body horror or really accurately described gross smells, this maybe isn’t for you.
This was a 4 star read for me – something felt like it was missing even though I enjoyed myself. But honestly a 4 star read for White is basically a 5 star for any other author, so you know it’s a good book.