This Monstrous Thing – Mackenzi Lee
In 1818 Geneva, men built with clockwork parts live hidden away from society, cared for only by illegal mechanics called Shadow Boys. Two years ago, Shadow Boy Alasdair Finch’s life shattered to bits.
His brother, Oliver—dead.
His sweetheart, Mary—gone.
His chance to break free of Geneva—lost.
Heart-broken and desperate, Alasdair does the unthinkable: He brings Oliver back from the dead.
But putting back together a broken life is more difficult than mending bones and adding clockwork pieces. Oliver returns more monster than man, and Alasdair’s horror further damages the already troubled relationship.
Then comes the publication of Frankenstein and the city intensifies its search for Shadow Boys, aiming to discover the real life doctor and his monster. Alasdair finds refuge with his idol, the brilliant Dr. Geisler, who may offer him a way to escape the dangerous present and his guilt-ridden past, but at a horrible price only Oliver can pay.
Review: Guys, I love this book so much! My first five-star read of 2018. It’s not a mind-blowing, brilliant piece of literature, but that doesn’t matter because I basically inhaled this book. It’s compulsively readable. It kept me awake for most of the night because I had to know how it ended.
Alasdair is a Shadow Boy, a mechanic who builds prosthetic limbs. In 1800s Europe, this is a dangerous profession because people see the fusing of flesh and machine as disgusting and unholy. Alasdair’s family is forced to move from place to place to avoid prosecution. In one of those places, Alasdair meets Dr. Geisler, a man who is trying to do more with clockwork than just build limbs. The doctor is trying to bring corpses back to life. Alasdair doesn’t believe this is possible until his brother, Oliver, dies. Alasdair and his somewhat-girlfriend, Mary Shelley, use Dr. Geisler’s techniques to resurrect Oliver. But, Oliver comes back more monster than human. Then Mary betrays Alasdair by writing a book—Frankenstein—about their experiences. Now Alasdair really has some problems . . .
“You took my life and Oliver's life and made them into this book. You made us into monsters, both of us.” – This Monstrous Thing
I love every character in this novel. They’re all anti-heroes with complicated—and often selfish—motives. You can’t fully trust any of them. Even Alasdair (the narrator) keeps information from the reader. I can understand why. The dude has made some unfortunate decisions in his life, but he’s not so evil that I hated him. For me, he’s the perfect blend of good intentions and bad outcomes.
One of Alasdair’s flaws is that he sees what he wants to see in people instead of what’s actually there. This flaw comes back to bite him several times throughout the novel. I think it’s a relatable flaw. We all want to believe the best about people, but sometimes you’ve got to admit that certain people in your life are jerks.
“We're all monsters. We're all careless and cruel in the end.” – This Monstrous Thing
Since the characters are anti-heroes, the plot is very twisty. Especially at the end. I finished this book in the middle of the night because I couldn’t put it down until I learned which characters survive the ending.
Originally, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to read this novel because I don’t like retellings, and I think Frankenstein is a boring story. I shouldn’t have hesitated. This book isn’t a retelling because Mary Shelley is a character in This Monstrous Thing. She’s not a minor character, either. She interacts with Alasdair and has a big role in the plot. I liked seeing a real person’s life fictionalized in a novel. It’s unusual.
(Also, unpopular opinion: Mackenzi Lee is a better writer than Mary Shelley. I studied Frankenstein in school and loathed every second of it.)
“Perhaps we all said the right things at the wrong time; perhaps we couldn't help it. Perhaps words became too heavy to haul, and the moment we let them loose was always the wrong one, but they needed to be free.” – This Monstrous Thing
Okay, I have to come up with something negative about This Monstrous Thing so it doesn’t just sound like I’m fangirling. Um . . . some parts of it are slightly obvious? There were times when I saw the answer to a problem long before Alasdair figured it out. Maybe the story also could have used more Oliver? Oliver is the resurrected monster, but we barely see him.
Those are tiny complaints. This book is a fun, escapist read with complicated characters and a cool steampunk world.
TL;DR: Why are you still looking at this review? You should be buying yourself a copy of This Monstrous Thing.