Monday, July 2, 2018

The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein, by Kiersten White

From the publisher: 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.

This Young Adult novel retells Mary Shelley's Frankenstein from the perspective of Elizabeth Lavenza, a fairly minor character from the original novel who is the fiancĂ©e of Victor Frankenstein, the mad scientist who creates the infamous monster.  Although the novel may be best read as a companion to Frankenstein, it also works quite well as a standalone read for those who have not read the original.

Seventeen year-old Elizabeth is a ward of the Frankenstein family. She was adopted as a child to be a companion for their eldest son Victor, who (to put it mildly) is a little unusual and doesn't relate well to other people. Elizabeth, eager to escape her current "caretaker" who regularly abuses her, quickly figures out who she needs to be in order to become inseparable from Victor and sets about shaping herself into that person. It works - she grows more and more attached to him, holding onto him as a lifeline.  Despite her close attachment (or perhaps because of it), she copes with a constant fear of being rejected and abandoned, believing that Victor's father would toss her out onto the street at the slightest provocation.

As the story begins, Victor has been away at university for about two years, leaving Elizabeth behind with the family since as a woman in 19th-century Europe, she cannot attend university herself. Victor wrote to her regularly at first, but she has received no word in many months. Desperate to learn what has become of the young man she regards as her only hope for a future, Elizabeth sets out from the Frankenstein home to find Victor and bring him home. 

Anyone familiar with the story of Frankenstein should be able to figure out what she discovers, but even once the full horror of the situation becomes clear, things are not necessarily what they seem. This is where the novel really starts to put a twist on the original Frankenstein story.

Without getting into specifics, Elizabeth's tale suggests that the events Victor relates in the original novel might not be what really happened. Modern readers tend to see Dr. Frankenstein as the true villain already, rather than the monster he created, and this novel plays with those expectations in new and interesting ways.

Whether or not the reader finds Elizabeth relatable, it's easy to see why she believes and acts as she does. It's clear that Kiersten White did her research and is quite familiar with the source material, the time period, and the setting. Though Frankenstein turned 200 years old this year, this book feels like a believable companion to the original novel.  

This book should appeal to fans of the original, as well as horror readers in general and fans of compelling female protagonists.  I read an Advance Reader Copy of The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein. The book comes out September 25th, and will be available in print at Galesburg Public Library.

Foundryside by Robert Jackson Bennett

From the publisher: Sancia Grado is a thief, and a damn good one. And her latest target, a heavily guarded warehouse on Tevanne’s docks, is nothing her unique abilities can’t handle. But unbeknownst to her, Sancia’s been sent to steal an artifact of unimaginable power, an object that could revolutionize the magical technology known as scriving. The Merchant Houses who control this magic have already used it to transform Tevanne into a vast, remorseless capitalist machine. But if they can unlock the artifact’s secrets, they will rewrite the world itself to suit their aims. 

“Any given innovation that empowers the individual will inevitably come to empower the powerful much, much more.” (p. 493)

Foundryside is engrossing, inventive, and fun. The characters have depth and much room to be explored in later books, and the plot caught me by surprise a number of times. Not everyone is what they seem, and there are many gray areas to their personalities.

Although set in a fantasy world, Foundryside has things to say about life in our world. I particularly liked this quote:
You have to understand, kid, that you’re wading into the depths of a war that has raged for time beyond memory – a war between those who make and that which is made, between those who own and those who are owned. (p. 484)

One of the things I liked is that the author has more original ways than using and overusing the F word to show that his characters often swear and can be coarse. I also liked that when he sets up a surprise twist, he doesn’t hide that something is happening. Although I didn’t guess what was coming the author made it possible for me to do so. (I hate it when authors keep knowledge from the reader just so they can create a surprise twist.) Also, at least so far, there aren’t any ancient texts or prophecies proclaiming Sancia to be a chosen one.

There is a bit of insta-love – meh – but at least there is no love triangle. Although the ending is wide open for sequels, this particular book also wraps up neatly. I’ll be looking forward to book 2.

Foundryside reminded me a little of the Abhorsen series by Garth Nix, although I found it easier to follow. If you enjoy thought-provoking fantasy with a lot of action and interesting characters, you might want to read Foundryside. I read an advance reader copy of Foundryside; it is due out on August 21 and will be available at the Galesburg Public Library as a book and an ebook.