THE DARK DESCENT OF ELIZABETH FRANKENSTEIN by KIERSTEN WHITE (2018)
A REVIEW by ALEXA DUNCAN
It’s October, everyone! My favorite month of the year is finally here, and to kick off the spookiness, I decided to read a spooky book. The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein by Kiersten White is spine-chilling retelling of Mary Shelley’s classic, Frankenstein from the point of view of Elizabeth Lavenza, Victor Frankenstein’s companion and wife. It’s not nearly as long as the original Frankenstein, but for what it lacks in length, it makes up for in quality. Kiersten White rarely disappoints me, an
d The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein is no exception.
The first thing we need to address when reviewing Elizabeth Frankenstein is this: You do not have to be familiar with the original Frankenstein to read this novel. It certainly helps to understand the retelling aspects, but it isn’t essential. I, for instance, have never read Frankenstein in its entirety, just chunks of it here and there for various classes throughout my years of schooling. Not having that background knowledge didn’t impact my enjoyment of Elizabeth Frankenstein. What starts as an eerie investigation through the town of Ingolstadt ends in a spectacular and cinematic fight between the laws of nature and the hubris of man.
Elizabeth Frankenstein follows Elizabeth Lavenza through her life with the Frankenstein family. Growing up orphaned and abused, Elizabeth was given to the Frankensteins as a companion for their son, Victor. Victor was a deeply strange child, intense and brimming with genius. Told through a series of flashbacks peppered in throughout the novel, readers get to see how Elizabeth manipulated Victor into loving her, thus securing her place in the Frankenstein household. Outside of the flashbacks, we follow seventeen-year-old Elizabeth as she and her dearest friend, Justine, scour the town of Ingolstadt in search of Victor, who seemingly disappeared nearly a year prior to the events of the novel. The second half of the novel follows the events after Victor is eventually found. If you’ve read Frankenstein or are familiar with the story at all, you’ll know what happens next.
Perhaps what I loved most about Elizabeth Frankenstein was Elizabeth herself. She does whatever it takes to survive, weaponizing her beauty and wit to secure her place in a precarious world. She is a complicated character, both conniving and kind, selfish and sometimes selfless. We see her grow angrier and angrier throughout the novel, both at Victor and at what she has to do to survive. Victor is an interesting character as well, brooding and manipulative and prone to fits of rage only Elizabeth can soothe. Elizabeth Frankenstein is fraught with the underlying notion that women must sacrifice themselves for the happiness of men, constantly operating under their thumb in order to make something of their lives. It is a timely discussion and it is constantly boiling underneath Elizabeth’s angelic surface.
The first half of this novel is good. It’s an unnerving, gothic tale ripped straight from the pages of Frankenstein itself. The second half elevates the novel from good to great. It is shocking and terrifying all at once, even if you already know what’s coming. The writing throughout is lush and reminiscent of the prose found in the original Frankenstein, dripping with its source material’s gothic sensibilities, all the while being accessible for today’s YA readers.
If you’re looking for something dark this October to get you in the Halloween mood, I highly recommend The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein. You can check out a copy from the Argenta library today!