For my grad class on YA literature, we had to pick up a dystopian or horror book to read. I’ve read a lot of YA dystopia in my life and was looking for something a bit different, so I picked by The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein. Part retelling, part POV inversion, The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein is the perfect horror read 200 years post Frankenstein.
Elizabeth Lavenza is always working to be the Elizabeth someone else wants her to be. When she was a child, she was given to the Frankenstein family as a companion to their odd, broody son, Victor. Through the years, it became clear to her that no one knew Victor like she did, no one could care for him. So Elizabeth molded herself to be the girl Victor wanted her to be. But, at the beginning of the novel, Victor has been gone for nearly two years for school and Elizabeth is on her way to find him, along with the Frankenstein’s governess, Justine, who Elizabeth herself brought into the Frankenstein household. When they finally find Victor, and it is difficult, Elizabeth is horrified to see what he has been studying. Body parts, chemicals, and a monster on the loose? What has Victor been up to? What happened to their friend, Henry? And what is up with that monster lurking on the periphery? Most importantly, what will Elizabeth do for her beloved Victor, and what will he ask of her?
Told in dark prose, flashbacks, and at a strange pace, The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein is perfect for lovers of Frankenstein, monsters,and dark and stormy tales. There’s murder, there is domestic violence, there are threats, and it’s not pretty. But neither is the tale of Frankenstein, right? This would be a great book to pair with the classic and talk about the role of female agency in either book, especially since Mary Shelley was around Elizabeth’s age when she wrote the book.
This book is perfect for teens who like complicated protagonists and don’t mind getting their hands dirty. You don’t need to have read Frankenstein to understand this book, but it helps. The prose feels a little higher than most YA fiction, a little more difficult, but that may be the historical aspect. Teens will need to play close attention to get all the details and understand the backstory. This is a dark tale that is probably best suited for juniors and seniors in high school, but it doesn’t include any overt mentions of sex even though Elizabeth frets about her “wedding night” and we all know what that means. There is a lot of death though, including graphic details, and you know, murder.