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The Man Behind The Monster

Mackenzi Lee’s Frankenstein retelling, This Monstrous Thing, breathes new life into the classic tale.

The Man Behind The Monster

BOOK REPORT for This Monstrous Thing by Mackenzi Lee

Cover Story: Ominous
BFF Charm: Eventually
Swoonworthy Scale: 2
Talky Talk: Gothic Meets Steampunk
Bonus Factor: Based on a True Story
Anti-Bonus Factor: Questionable Science
Relationship Status: Pen Pals

Cover Story: Ominous

There’s nothing about this cover that says the story within is going to be cheerful, or happy, or take place in a sunny setting. (Which is wholly accurate.) I wouldn’t want to meet up with this cover in a dark alley.

The Deal:

Alasdair Finch has to be very careful. He, his father, and his brother, Oliver, are all Shadow Boys, mechanics who illegally perform operations/repairs on people who have clockwork parts in place of human limbs, organs, etc. Alasdair’s family has moved around Europe frequently to avoid being caught, mere steps ahead of the law.

But then Oliver dies. And, in his grief, Alasdair goes a step further than simply fixing what’s broken: He resurrects his brother, replacing much of what was human with mechanics.

Oliver isn’t the same after the changes, but Alasdair tells himself that he made the right choice, even as the doubts begin to grow. And when the anonymously written and utterly familiar Frankenstein: The Modern Prometheus is published, the doubts, and the consequences of Alasdair’s rash decision, threaten to overwhelm everything.

BFF Charm: Eventually

At one point in This Monstrous Thing, a secondary character tells Alasdair that there are two kinds of men in the world, “good” men or “clever” men, and that all men are one or the other; no one can be both. Throughout the novel, Alasdair struggles with what type he is. Personally, I don’t think the world is as black or white as this suggests, but Alasdair’s internal struggle affected my views of him as a friend contender, even though—on a surface level—I liked him throughout the story. In the end, I feel as though Alasdair is both, and therefore I’d totally be on board hanging out with him. But I’m totally OK with him conducting his experiments on his own.

Swoonworthy Scale: 2

Alasdair is a pretty young guy, and because of his lifestyle, he’s had little chance to meet that someone special. He thought he did, once, and we see glimpses of that budding relationship in flashback scenes. But they’re all very chaste, and—sadly—don’t entirely work out in Alasdair’s favor, past or present.

Talky Talk: Gothic Meets Steampunk

In her notes in the back of the book, Mackenzi Lee mentions that Frankenstein is often miscategorized as a steampunk novel, and that incorrect idea led her to create a world in which the Gothic nature of Frankenstein meshed with steampunk elements. For those of you who aren’t a fan of the steampunk genre (I happen to be a fan), don’t fret: Lee could have taken the steampunk elements way farther than she did, but they’re not extremely overt, and they mesh quite well with the original tale.

Additionally, Alasdair, for all that he’s different from me in so many ways, is a very relatable character. His indecision over his decisions feels familiar, even if the actual events are situations that are impossible for me to ever have to face.

Bonus Factor: Based on a True Story

This Monstrous Thing isn’t your traditional retelling, where the original story is obviously inspiration but is never mentioned within a story. Frankenstein exists in Alasdair’s world, but instead of being a fictional account, it’s based on an actual event in Alasdair’s life. The idea of famous fictional stories actually being based on real-life events is a fun one, and totally sent me down a wormhole of “what ifs.”

Anti-Bonus Factor: Questionable Science

I’m not a total sticker for the details of everything in fictional books being explained, but the explanation of how Alasdair was able to bring Oliver back to life is really vague. There are also instances in the novel of characters using what I think was static electricity to restart or recharge clockwork limbs that didn’t quite make sense. I don’t need detailed manuals of how this world works, but I would have liked a little more grounding (forgive my electricity pun) to these plot points.

Casting Call:

Iain De Caestecker as Alisdair

He’d have to dye his hair darker, but he’s got the Scottish part—and the ability to portray genuine sincerity—down pat.

Relationship Status: Pen Pals

It might be hard, Book, for us to maintain a relationship with the nature of your life (i.e., always being on the run, trying to avoid getting caught by the police, etc.), but I’d certainly like to try. Send me a letter when you’re settled, and I’ll hopefully be able to respond before you have to move again.

FTC Full Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from Katherine Tegen Books, but got neither a private dance party with Tom Hiddleston nor money in exchange for this review. This Monstrous Thing is available now.

Mandy Curtis's photo About the Author: Mandy is a small town girl living in a nerdy world, or—if you want to get literal—an editor/writer living in Austin, TX. In addition to yearning for YA books—the more dystopian or fantastical, the better—she can also be found swooning over superheroes, dreaming of The Doctor and grinning at GIFs.
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