I received an advance reader’s copy (ARC) of Frances and the Monster by Refe Tuma. Since this version is just a proof and not the final version, I won’t quote directly and will keep my comments general.
All you have to do is say the words “Frankenstein retelling” and I’m automatically intrigued.
In Frances and the Monster by Refe Tuma, Frances loves tinkering with her parents, as well as taking care of the animals they keep in their large Swiss manor. She doesn’t know much of the outside world, as her parents have kept her fairly secluded after a bad automobile accident. One day, her parents leave for a symposium, and leave her in the care of Hobbes, an intelligent automaton. She quickly outmaneuvers Hobbes, though, and becomes determined to finish her grandfather’s work. But this backfires when she brings a being that is part man and part robot to life, and accidentally sets it loose on the town. Great. So Frances makes her way out into the world for the first time in years, with only Hobbes and her chimp friend to help her stop the monster she’s created.
First of all, I really like Frances as a protagonist. She bears some resemblance to Victor Frankenstein of the original novel, with her cleverness and ill-advised desire to do what her scientific predecessors have never accomplished. But she’s also much kinder and more empathetic. She isn’t so blinded by her own intelligence that she can’t value other people’s opinions, and she admits her mistakes and tries to fix things (pretty much unlike Victor). Her growing understanding of friendship, and of the importance of taking responsibility for her actions, is excellently written.
I also liked the other characters. Hobbes is easily my favorite, a sassy and witty character for Frances to banter with. Luca, the boy she encounters in town, is very sweet and engaging. The main antagonist, Constable Montavon, isn’t the most interesting character I’ve ever seen, but he did prove a worthy—and frustrating—opponent. As for the monster, the idea of bringing a more steampunk touch to this retelling was especially evident, and awesome, here. He is unseen for much of the story, and I would have liked more time with him, but I still loved the moments we spent with him.
More on the steampunk aspect, this is set on the eve of the Second World War, which makes for an intriguing change. The technology is different than in Mary Shelley’s time, so we get automobiles and radios. This makes the inclusion of Hobbes a little more believable, though he’s still clearly the more sci-fi part. I really enjoyed the slight anachronism, though, because robots are always cool.
Another cool thing was the twist toward the end involving Frances herself. For a lot of the book, she’s been dealing with stress and some lingering trauma as a result of the serious car accident that she was in as a younger child. Nothing is too serious or graphic for middle grade readers, and I appreciated its inclusion. And the revelation at the end was pretty delightful, even if it left me wanting more information. Luckily, it seems like the author has left things open for a second book, and hopefully we get one!
In the end, Frances and the Monster is a wonderful story! Great characters, a solid plot that is both fond homage and also strong as its own thing, and heartfelt emotion about connection and friendship. This seems like something that would be a perfect book for fans of Enola Holmes (though, granted, I’ve only seen the film). It’s adventurous and fun, intelligent and wild. I really enjoyed it!
Frances and the Monster will be published on August 23rd, 2022!
PS: It’s occurred to me that I’ve never actually reviewed the original novel here. Here’s a mini review: it’s amazing, spectacular, fantastic, my favorite work of “classic” Western literature, and Mary Shelley is absolutely brilliant.