This Monstrous Thing by Mackenzi Lee
My rating: ★★★
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…
[I received a copy of this novel through Edelweiss, in exchange for an honest review.]
Sort of a retelling of the “Frankenstein” story, based on the idea of “what if the latter had been inspired by real-life events”. In a world where Clockwork (allowing to replace missing limbs in people, among other things) is considered in some places, due to its proponents’ reputation of not being fully human, Alasdair Finch and his family have been on the run for years, ending in Geneva where they secretly practice their craft as “Shadow Boys”. Since the elder brother, Oliver, died two years ago, though, nothing has been the same. It is, obviously, no spoiler to say that Alasdair brought him back through clockwork, and now has to deal with a different Oliver, back from the dead… and no brother quite know what to do with himself or each other anymore.
The characters themselves were interesting enough, with merits and flaws, doubts and questions regarding what they had done, what they should do… Oliver: convinced he was a monster, and having to learn who he was through Alasdair, since he first had no memory of his previous life. Alasdair, torn between his loyalty towards his brother and family and his desire to study with their former mentor, Dr. Geisler. Clémence, so hardened and savvy in many ways, yet also unsure of what her place in the world was. Mary, conflicted about the choices she made and the façade she presented to the world. Even some minor characters, whose own perception of clockwork isn’t always what you’d think.
I regretted however not seeing more of their inner questioning: we get a lot from Alasdair, since he’s the first person narrator, but the others seemed to have such torment to contend with, and it was “only” seen through Ally’s eyes, therefore tinged by his own view of the world. It mirrored the original work by Shelley, but didn’t have the same impact on me. Perhaps a third person narration, with a couple of other points of view, may have worked well here, if only to also let the reader witness other happenings—the plot remained slow in terms of events/action, yet not as devoted as it could have been to fully develop the whole philosophy and conundrums behind the Shadow Boys, clockwork, people having undergone such surgery after having lost a foot or an arm, the Frankenstein society, Mary Shelley’s actions and her somewhat questionable reasons… And although the ending was left open, it was also a little flat compared to what had been at stake.
I still deem this book pleasant to read, for the atmosphere it evoked and the themes it dealt with. I only wish it would’ve delved deeper into its, all in all, fascinating ideas.
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