This Monstrous Thing
Release Date: September 22, 2015
Synopsis on Goodreads:
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…
This Monstrous Thing by Mackenzi Lee is a fantastic retelling of Frankenstein as well as a great steampunk novel! I loved her alternate, steampunk Europe and the society of Shadow Boys and Clockwork Men. While Lee changes some elements to fit within her steampunk world, she’s mostly true to the original classic and the life of Mary Shelley.
The novel centres around Alasdair Finch and his family’s involvement with the dangerous society of Shadow Boys. These illegal mechanics re-build broken bones and damaged organs through clockwork parts. While set mainly in Geneva, there exists a strong prejudice across Europe against people with clockwork parts (some places more strongly than others). Lee bases this off real-life issues of the time and the reader can see the authenticity of that, the buildup of raw emotion. These prejudices might even be compared to today’s real-life issues.
The novel is in first person POV and I loved being inside Alasdair’s head. He’s a very likeable character, particularly for his flaws. Some of the many emotions he feels and experiences are very relatable. For instance, there’s his past jealousy of his older brother, Oliver, for holding the attention of Alasdair’s idol, Dr. Geisler. Geisler introduces the Finch family to this world of Clockwork Men, and all Alasdair dreams of is going to Ingolstadt and studying under his idol, in a university that values technological advancement. Oliver and Alasdair have a strong brotherly bond, but this jealousy causes a huge rift and so we have This Monstrous Thing.
The writing is impressive! I felt there was a smooth transition between the present timeline and past memories or flashbacks of Alasdair. The action is somewhat slow in the beginning, but picks up near the end (and very much worth it!). I loved the action scenes, they were all phenomenal and the face-to-face with Alasdair and Oliver was very powerful. I have siblings and seeing our own bond within these characters was very stirring.
A few things I didn’t expect but loved was how Lee wrote Mary Shelley in as a character and the way Frankenstein existed as a book in the novel. With the tension surrounding Clockwork Men already high, Frankenstein creates even more anxiety and fear. Both the police and the general public in Geneva make it their number one mission to find both this monster of Frankenstein and the society of Shadow Boys. When deciding how the original tale would exist in Lee’s retelling, this was definitely the right call. Furthermore, I loved learning about Mary as a person beyond her legendary classic. I read Frankenstein in high school and at the same time learned about Shelley, but never beyond that. Lee establishes a new appreciation of both author and novel in This Monstrous Thing.
As a fan of Frankenstein, I was already confident I’d enjoy it, but This Monstrous Thing goes above and beyond my expectations. I love books and television/film that focus deeply on sibling bonds. It’s intriguing to read about how far someone will go for their brother or sister. For Alasdair, mortal limits mean nothing when it comes to saving his brother. Whether or not you’re a fan of Shelley’s classic novel, you’ll love this deeply evocative story of two brothers and their world of clockwork.