Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein was a seminal work in a couple of ways. It helped to usher in the science fiction genre and helped to pave the way for female authors to be taken more seriously. To play with this story is to tinker with the mechanism that brought us a whole new genre, yet This Monstrous Thing by Mackenzi Lee takes the tale and brings to life a different version of its creation.
In Geneva in 1818, groups of people have to keep parts of their identity a secret since having clockwork body parts is seen as an abomination. Alasdair Finch is a Shadow Boy, a mechanic of the clockworks, and he is utterly fascinated by mechanics and how things work. So much so that after his brother Oliver dies in an accident, he is determined to bring him back from the grave, with the help of his friend Mary. But Oliver’s resurrection is a secret that Mary and Alasdair keep, even from Alasdair’s parents, because if people with a clockwork limb are treated as less than human, how would a reanimated corpse be treated? Life, in its various forms, continues on for two years, but then an anonymously published book by the name of Frankenstein, which eerily parallel’s Alasdair and Oliver’s lives, tears their world asunder.
The story is an imaginative reenvisioning of how Shelley’s Frankenstein came to be while using the genres it spawned from. It incorporates historical facts with the aspects of steampunk, which has become a popular aesthetic lately, common in particular subsets of science fiction. With plenty of didactic moments that speak to the human condition, the story that Lee weaves with Shelley’s seminal work has the potential to be a bit too preachy, but it achieves the delicate balance and keeps the narrative entertaining. Parts of the book felt a little bit slow, but I may have to chalk that up to my already having figured out where the narrative was going and wanting it to GET there. I rather enjoyed how the story played with prevalent question of just who is the monster in a story like this, because man can be a rather monstrous creature.
Overall, I’d give it a 4.5 out of 5 stars.