Review: The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein by Kiersten White

The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein

Kiersten White

Elizabeth Lavenza hasn’t had a proper meal in weeks. Her thin arms are covered with bruises from her “caregiver,” and she is on the verge of being thrown into the streets . . . until she is brought to the home of Victor Frankenstein, an unsmiling, solitary boy who has everything–except a friend.

Victor is her escape from misery. Elizabeth does everything she can to make herself indispensable–and it works. She is taken in by the Frankenstein family and rewarded with a warm bed, delicious food, and dresses of the finest silk. Soon she and Victor are inseparable.

But her new life comes at a price. As the years pass, Elizabeth’s survival depends on managing Victor’s dangerous temper and entertaining his every whim, no matter how depraved. Behind her blue eyes and sweet smile lies the calculating heart of a girl determined to stay alive no matter the cost . . . as the world she knows is consumed by darkness.

Publisher: Delacorte Press

Published: September 25th 2018

Blood Depiction, Murder, Death of a Child, Child Abuse, Mutilation, Emotional Abuse, Self Harm, Body Horror, Animal Abuse, Mention of Suicide

You are mine, Elizabeth Lavenza, and nothing will take you from me. Not even death.

I’m not going to say the Frankenstein tale is what drew me to this story and I’m not going to say that I went into this with the highest of expectations. I know the tale secondhandedly, but I know enough to appreciate the homage White shows in her retelling of the story.

The book starts out quite quickly jumping into the action of a missing Victor Frankenstein and Elizabeths’ search for him fearing that she will be cast out of the home since she has nothing to really add to the household with him gone. And like I’d mentioned above, pacing? I was really for it. This was such a fast book and it worked well here. Nothing felt rushed and everything the story was trying to tell felt like it had enough room to be told… am I making sense?

“They were the only currency I ever had. My dresses, my shoes, my ribbons – they all belonged to the Frankensteins. I was a guest in them, just as I was a guest in that house.” 

And yes, I was expecting this to be a dark story, but the way toxic and abusive relationships are displayed was… subtle? Because we’re right there with Elizabeth, we’re on this journey with her to secure her place in this household and leaving such an abusive and volatile environment just to go to a quieter one… We can see how her mindset is viewing this family and Victor as saviors, ignoring the red flags because this is much better than the physical abuse she was subjected to before the Frankenstein family took her in.

As for our cast:

Elizabeth – our main character who grew up poor, sold to a random family, filled with desperation surrounded by people ahem men who only wanted to use her. A woman who was never herself and turned into something malleable, something others would want in turn for her safety. She is a morally grey character, ambitious in her need to have that security in life. She does things that are not good. She enables and turns the other way, but never does she feel like she isn’t a victim of circumstance.

Justine – who came from a horrible household that Elizabeth saved, but kept a sweet and kind soul and the only person who loved Elizabeth purely and wholly.

Mary – the bookseller – and a bit of a homage to Shelley – who they meet on the way and in my opinion admittedly was too okay with everything? And went along with this wild plot, but was likable either way.

Henry – a bright spot in Elizabeths’ life, someone pure in his intentions, a lover of literature and stories and poetry and the longer I think about it, the more I actually feel for him.

Victor – we know where Victor is going in this story, but we delve into his psyche… and I wish we delved deeper. We’re immediately dropped into the he’s a disturbed child narrative and I just wanted to know how? Are we leaning into the he was born this way narrative? I’m not sure how I feel about that.

“They had stripped us of everything we were taught made us women and then told us we were mad.” 

Objectively, on a surface level I liked Elizabeth and most of the other characters. Yet, my somewhat shallow liking of them never detracted from the message of this story of agency, of men and their audacity especially in the 1800s. Of guilt and victimhood and survival and living your truest self and found family and accountability.

Now, I know I mentioned earlier that the pacing was *chef’s kiss* but… the ending did feel rushed and a bit like a cop out? Well, not the ending, but the epilogue. I feel like that epilogue was a bit unnecessary, the ending would have been powerful enough without it. However, I recommend this book, it was such a surprising read– it surpassed my expectations.

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