In This Monstrous Thing by Mackenzi Lee, Alasdair works as an assistant to his father, who makes and repairs mechanical prosthetics for people. These clockwork people aren’t treated well in their society, though, which is why Alasdair is forced to keep his greatest innovation secret: that he’s managed to use clockwork and steam power to bring his brother, Oliver, back to life. But with the anonymous publication of a novel called Frankenstein, Alasdair’s secret is threatened. Someone knows what he has done, and it might put Oliver in danger. Alasdair turns to Dr. Geisler, his mentor, for help, but his trust might be misplaced.
Listen, show me a Frankenstein retelling, and there’s a really good chance I’ll read it. Plus, it being written by an author I’m already familiar with and like makes it even better.
Alasdair was a decent protagonist, though sometimes I found him frustrating. He made decisions that I knew would be bad, or didn’t see things that I found obvious. The main one had to do with the identity of Frankenstein’s author—I mean, we all know it already. He seemed like a bit of an idiot for not realizing who it was, and in fact discounting her as a possibility. There was an explanation, but it felt slightly weak. But I digress—Alasdair wasn’t the best main character, but I still wanted to see what would happen to him and how he would make it through.
The other characters were fine. Clemence was probably the best and most well-fleshed out (ooh, pun not intended, though I wish it had been). Oliver was excellent too, though I wanted to get to know him as well as we do the creature in the original Frankenstein, and we didn’t have quite enough time with him for that.
Part of the problem that contributed to this, I think, was the excursion Alasdair went on to Ingolstadt. I understand why it was needed for him to be separated from Oliver, but it ended up not having as much impact on the plot as I thought it would. Same goes for Geisler, who was a very lackluster villain for me.
On a more positive side, I enjoyed the look into Mary Shelley’s background, and the twist on how she came up with the idea for the novel. Having that intertwined with Alasdair’s storyline was fun, and you can tell that Lee likes and respects Mary’s life and her role in the world at the time, as well as her influence on literature in general.
And on another good note, the final confrontation was pretty exciting and intense. I thought the idea of a clockwork-person uprising was cool, and the execution of that plot line was pretty good. Also, how cool is steampunk Frankenstein as a concept, anyway? Very!
In the end, This Monstrous Thing isn’t a bad novel by any means. It’s clear to me that this is a debut, because it often lacks adequate depth in terms of the characterization and worldbuilding, but what is present is great. The pacing is adequate, as is the writing in general. I would have made very different choices sometimes, if I had written this, but it’s still a worthy debut novel, and a work that not only seeks to honor its inspiration/source material, but explore the same themes in a slightly different way and different world. This won’t be a book for everyone (I admit it’s quite a niche concept), but I liked it all right.