By Mackenzi Lee
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books
Publication Date: September 22nd, 2015
In 1818 Geneva, men built with clockwork parts live hidden away from society, cared for only by illegal mechanics called Shadow Boys. Two years ago, Shadow Boy Alasdair Finch’s life shattered to bits.
His brother, Oliver—dead.
His sweetheart, Mary—gone.
His chance to break free of Geneva—lost.
Heart-broken and desperate, Alasdair does the unthinkable: He brings Oliver back from the dead.
But putting back together a broken life is more difficult than mending bones and adding clockwork pieces. Oliver returns more monster than man, and Alasdair’s horror further damages the already troubled relationship.
Then comes the publication of Frankenstein and the city intensifies its search for Shadow Boys, aiming to discover the real life doctor and his monster. Alasdair finds refuge with his idol, the brilliant Dr. Geisler, who may offer him a way to escape the dangerous present and his guilt-ridden past, but at a horrible price only Oliver can pay…
This Monstrous Thing is far from your straight forward, or not so straight forward, retelling. It is a steampunk version of Frankenstein, but the story kicks off by having the retelling fold in on itself by having the classic work, Frankenstein, in a slightly altered form, not only make an appearance, but be an integral and influential part of the plot. In a world that shuns those with mechanical repairs to their body, Alasdair Finch and his father work to provide underground assistance to to those in need of mechanical appendages in the highly prejudiced and volatile city of Geneva. When Frankenstein, a book that suspiciously mirrors events in Alasdair’s life from two years prior, becomes the newest craze across Europe, Alasdair’s life takes a turn for the eventful.
The characters were incredible, complete with depth and distinct motivations. None are perfect, each have their flaws, be they prejudices, past regrets, or hints of madness, but these make them all the more human, allowing them to contribute that much more to the fast paced plot. While the story revolves around Alasdair and the rather unique predicament he is in of being the only person ever to reanimate a man and subsequently have to keep it hidden from the world, other characters pass through the periphery and foreground leaving their own distinct impressions. Oliver plays the role of the book’s monster opposite Alasdair’s Victor Frankenstein and both fulfill these roles and go extensively beyond them and make them their own. Mary Shelley herself makes an appearance, her role in the story perhaps fairly obvious to the reader and making it exasperating to read about how Alasdair persists to dismiss her as a possible author for the book that plagues him. Beyond the characters that match up to their classic counterparts, there is the community of those with mechanized limbs that both accept and stand apart from Oliver and the bridge, of sorts, between the two, Clémence.
While relying some on its source work, This Monstrous Thing sets itself apart with a unique twist on the concept of retellings and a story that ultimately reaches the same thematic realization as its predecessor but in a wholly original way. It is a quick read, with the countdown to the end feeling as omnipresent as that Genevan clock tower.
Mackenzi Lee is reader, writer, bookseller, unapologetic fangirl, fast talker, and perpetually-anxious badass. She holds an MFA from Simmons College in writing for children and young adults, and her short fiction has appeared in Inaccurate Realities, The Friend, and The Newport Review. Her young adult historical fantasy novel, THIS MONSTROUS THING, which won the PEN-New England Susan P. Bloom Children’s Book Discovery Award, as well as an Emerging Artist Grant from the St. Botolph Club Foundation, will be published fall of 2015 by Katherine Tegen/HarperCollins.
She loves Diet Coke, sweater weather, and historical fiction. On a perfect day, she can be found enjoying all three. She currently calls Boston home.
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