The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein
By Kiersten White
Published September 25, 2018 by Delacorte Press
In an effort to read more classics this year, I finally tackled Frankenstein, a book I’d been meaning to read for years. I loved it, but I found Victor Frankenstein to be a very frustrating character and I thought a lot about whether the reliability of his narrative. This was the perfect time for me to read The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein, which is a reimagining of Mary Shelley’s classic tale from the point of view of Elizabeth, Victor’s foster sister and eventual wife.
Shelley’s Elizabeth is a minor character, mostly existing in letters to Victor reminding him of family and the comforts of home. She is patient and devoted and eventually a victim. Kiersten White’s Elizabeth is a very different character. While she plays the devoted daughter/sister, she has her own needs and ambitions and she will do whatever it takes to achieve them.
Her mother dead and her father in prison, she lives with a guardian who neglects and abuses her until the Frankenstein family take her in as a companion for their son Victor. This isn’t as altruistic as it seems. The Frankenstein parents are terrified of their son, who at seven is already a budding sociopath. Elizabeth is just five, but now that she’s living in luxury, she is determined not to be sent back to her abusive guardian and she quickly learns to be everything that Victor needs.
It’s so interesting to read this well-known story from another point of view. When I was reading Frankenstein, I thought Victor was kind of the worst, and this book definitely takes that view. It brings the female characters to the forefront. We get to know Justine (who appears only briefly in the book) as a full-fledged person and not just a tragic victim. Elizabeth truly comes alive, and it’s clear that there’s much more to her than just being Victor’s love interest. There’s even a new female character, Mary Delgado, a woman trying to exist in a male-dominated world.
Elizabeth is such a great character. She presents a placid, sweet exterior to the world, but inside, there’s much more going on. She makes herself into the perfect companion for Victor, the only person who can keep him calm. She is the perfect adopted daughter, always dutiful and helpful. But she is also a deeply intelligent and independent young woman, who is desperate to stay with the family who has taken her in. She cares for Victor, but she also knows that her role as his companion is the only thing keeping her place in the family, which leads her into danger as she tries to save Victor from himself.
The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein is a fascinating look at a famous story, and it’s an interesting exploration of how a story can change depending on who’s doing the telling. It’s not necessary to have read Frankenstein before reading this book, but I think it adds to the experience. This is one of my favorite books of 2018, and I highly recommend it.
I received an ARC from Amazon Vine.