the dark descent of elizabeth frankenstein review // feminist frankenstein retelling: yes or no?

The funny thing about being a mood reader is that occasionally, some random book from your backlog that you weren’t even really anticipating reading all that much suddenly appeals to you. So of course, you pick it up and dive in. That was the case with me about a month ago with The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein. (yeah, this review is kind of late).

Abused by her caregiver, Elizabeth Lavenza finds her escape in a boy named Victor Frankenstein. She learns to be whatever he needs to be, do whatever he needs her to do, so she doesn’t lose the safe life she’s precariously built for herself. As the years pass and a darkness haunts both of them, the cunning Elizabeth must decide where her loyalties lie in order to survive.

For some incomprehensible reason, I didn’t completely process that this was a Frankenstein retelling until maybe 100 pages in. I’m not super familiar with the original story but I must have read the Great Illustrated Classics version at some point because I recognized several key elements in this one. Anyways, I enjoyed this one more than I thought I would!

Elizabeth is a great main character. She’ll do anything for Victor Frankenstein because as long as he wants her nearby, she’s not doomed to return to a place of abuse. I loved how she was a sort of anti-heroine at times! She’s cunning and clever but also loving towards her best friend Justine and of course Victor. As the story progresses, Elizabeth is forced to make increasingly difficult choices. It was refreshing to read about a character who makes complex choices that are also reasonable for her but not always for the reader.

I really wasn’t expecting how dark this got. Sure, it has the word dark in the title. But the last half of this novel was a totally different creature in tone from the first half, and I have to applaud Kiersten White for her work on writing atmosphere. I loved the complexity of Victor and Elizabeth’s relationship and a few plot twists. And the focus on women? Excellent.

However, while I liked the plot points of the second half, it just felt so dang rushed. For the first 50 pages of this novel, I was a bit bored. That’s absolutely hilarious to me now considering that the last 100 pages are a total whirlwind of fast-paced action. I’m happy this wasn’t longer than 300 pages but at the same time, the pacing definitely felt wonky. Elizabeth and Victor both took sharp 180s in their character arcs. It felt like White suddenly decided she wanted to jump to the conclusion of her story and that made everything switch directions way too fast.

So that’s it! I don’t have much to say about this one because it just felt so short. I really wish that the ending and characters weren’t fast-tracked to 200x speed. Overall, I’d give this 3.5/5 stars. Tell me: have you read this one? Do you like the story of Frankenstein?

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