From the desk of Sophia Rose:
When one considers classic horror, there are few tales that leap so quickly to the mind as Frankenstein. Published in 1818, the tale was originally spun by Mary Shelley as a campfire ghost tale during a summer gathering of literary giants vacationing along the shores of Lake Geneva. Much homage has been paid to the original story, in print and film, yet here is a sparkling, standout gem of a companion novel written by Kris Waldherr not only paying proper tribute to both the radical author and her disturbing tale, but with an added twist. Unnatural Creatures spotlights the women of the Frankenstein story.
“This will be her third death since she became a monster.” Loc. 83
Frankenstein Family Ties
Set against the backdrop of late eighteenth century Geneva when revolution is rife, Unnatural Creatures opens from Caroline Frankenstein’s perspective.
Caroline was rescued from poverty by marrying her father’s friend, a man much older than herself. Alphonse Frankenstein holds an office in the Genevan government and has some wealth which makes them part of the aristocracy, and prey to those with revolutionary sentiments. Caroline is fearful, even at their country manor where they have fled from Geneva to keep their family safe. Alphonse and Caroline share their home with their oldest son, Victor, and ward, Elizabeth Lavenza. Younger son Ernest is away getting treatment in the Alpine air for his weak lungs. Victor is intelligent and brooding, Elizabeth is bright and exquisite, and Caroline has motherly hopes to see them wed when they are older.
An Electrical Christmas
On a snowy day just before Christmas, Elizabeth discovers in the garden the abused grave digger’s daughter. Caroline tenderly cares for her needs and removes her from her abusive mother. Justine becomes Caroline’s loyal servant from day one.
“…Caroline heard the girl’s voice for the first time. Her voice was high-pitched, broad-voweled. Fated. “Madame, anything you need of me, I shall do for you. This I promise.” Loc 356
And, that Christmas season, led by a soiree of their society acquaintances and a curious naturalist there to do a demonstration with electricity, Justine hurls her body in the path of an intruder bent on violence. Caroline repays this loyalty with a comfortable home and employment that include respect and education along with a mysterious request that Justine watch the household for her. It is good that she did because Justine discovers a dark, unnerving secret related to Victor.
“On the last page, he’d drawn a miniature man unlike anything she’d ever seen…Life created of man, not woman. An unnatural creature. Too upset to think clearly, Caroline immediately burned the journal.” Loc 1145
Scarlet Fever, Guilt and Grief, and the Secrets of Death… and Life?
Elizabeth Lavenza has become the lady of the house after Caroline succumbs to Scarlet Fever fulfilling the good lady’s wishes out of a sense of love and guilt when Elizabeth becomes engaged to Victor. The engagement will be long as Victor is away at school in Ingolstadt, Germany where he withdraws from the family with long silences infrequently punctuated by terse, short missives. Grieving for Caroline, Alphonse has brought Ernest home after they all learn that he has some radical philosophical ideas that are in sympathy with the revolutionaries and wants to be a soldier, much to the consternation of his father. The revolutionaries have risen in Geneva. Alphonse reveals the secrets of Elizabeth’s childhood so that he might send her to the Italian Villa she inherited on the death of her birth parents. She takes young William, the Frankenstein child born shortly before Caroline’s death, and they are escorted by hers and Victor’s childhood friend, Henry Clerval.
The Darkness or the Light
“Henry was like a poem. Victor was a storm.” Loc 1695
At the villa, life is golden with peace. Elizabeth is happy with the few servants, caring for young William, and spending her days conversing and walking with Henry. She comes to rely on him so much that she shares her darkest secret, and learns his life-transforming one.
“After a moment, he replied. “You’re not as people believe, are you, Elizabeth Lavenza? You hide your sorrow behind your smile. You seek comfort by examining the shadows.” Loc 1704
She loves Victor as her nearest childhood companion. However, with his emotional distance, this leaves room for the warmer, healthier love to spring up between her and Henry. Elizabeth doesn’t intentionally succumb and is in the middle before she realizes. Victor or Henry? Dark or light? She will need to decide.
And, then later when they are reunited back in Geneva, there is the revelation of Victor’s secrets that are horrific and beyond her artistic imagination. What will come of that secret and the deadly danger it poses?
“Every so often, Elizabeth discovered Victor staring at her with an aspect bordering on pity. Whenever she caught him, he smiled, but it wasn’t his usual smile. It was the smile of someone with a secret they yearned to keep. A secret she feared to learn, especially now that she’d peeked inside that green journal.” Loc 4014
The Final Woman, Servant, Murderess, Monster
The final acts of the story have seen Justine’s adult life fill with little joy, but trials that prepare her for the climactic confrontation that is hers alone. First, Caroline made the discovery that her son was disturbingly unnatural and possibly dangerous, then Elizabeth discovers her beloved childhood friend Victor has sunk into a crazed darkness and created a monster, but it falls to Justine, who grew up abused and never quite normal, to look the made-monster in the eye and feel empathy and understanding even while knowing he must be stopped from his bloody path of bloody revenge.
“Both created by Frankensteins. Monsters…” How certain you sound…” The monster’s voice turned caressing; this alarmed Justine more than his hands around her throat. “Tell me, what were you before the Frankensteins took you in?” Loc 5318
From the structure to the settings and cast of characters to the quotes and tone of the writing, I was satisfyingly, deeply emotionally vested and plunged into a companion novel that did not simply pay homage to Frankenstein but convinced me it could be the missing parts to the story. I can offer no higher praise. I did not revisit the original tale which I last read years ago, and perhaps that would have enriched my reading experiences even more, but I found I could plunge into Unnatural Creatures just fine. I highly recommend it to those who love the Gothic and classic monster tales from a feminine perspective.
5 out of 5 Stars
- Unnatural Creatures: A Novel of the Frankenstein Women, by Kris Waldherr
- Muse Publications LLC (September 29, 2022)
- Trade paperback, eBook, & audiobook (368) pages
- ISBN: 979-8985351200
- Genre: Gothic Fiction, Historical Suspense
We received a review copy of the book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Austenprose is an Amazon affiliate. Cover image courtesy of Muse Publications © 2022; text Sophia Rose © 2022, austenprose.com.