The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein

Book review by
Michael Berry, Common Sense Media
The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein Book Poster Image
Clever retelling of horror classic from female perspective.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein re-imagines the classic tale from a female perspective. It raises questions about how the rights of women have changed over the centuries and whether science needs to be governed by morals.

Positive Messages

Young women have the ability to work against the male repression that tries to hold them down. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

Abused and abandoned as a child, Elizabeth Lavenza will do almost anything to remain a part of the Frankenstein household. She manipulates other people to make herself feel more secure. Eventually, she sees the error of her ways.

Violence

Violence is more often implied than shown, but there's quite a lot of it. A young child is strangled to death, the accused culprit hanged. Elizabeth sets a house on fire. Showdowns with knives and pistols, leading to a stabbing and a shooting. Various body parts, some fresher than others, are strewn about.

Sex

Victor and Elizabeth are supposed to be a romantic couple, but their interactions are exceptionally chilly.

Language

"S--t," "piss," "ass," and "bitch" used up to a half-dozen times each.

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Kiersten White's The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein is a reimagining of Mary Shelley's classic tale of horror. It focuses on the female characters who people the original novel. There's a large amount of violence, more often implied than shown, that includes a strangling, a hanging, a shooting, and a stabbing. A small amount of swearing includes "s--t," "piss," "ass," and "bitch."

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What's the story?

As THE DARK DESCENT OF ELIZABETH FRANKENSTEIN opens, Elizabeth Lavenza is on a desperate quest to find young scientist Victor Frankenstein, who has disappeared somewhere in Europe. Hired to be his friend, she believes that his presence is the only thing preventing her from being cast off, penniless, into the streets. Accompanied by the Frankenstein family's governess, she traces him to Ingolstadt, where she makes a horrifying discovery about Victor's research. A monster is in their midst, but he may not be who he seems.

Is it any good?

Familiar tales can sometimes be reworked into something new and compelling, and this creepy retelling of a horror classic has intelligence and inventiveness to spare. The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein does justice to its source, but with a modern, feminist sensibility. Author Kiersten White devises some shocking twists, keeping the suspense high on two different timelines. Reading the original book beforehand is recommended. The changes White makes to the story are more fascinating the more one knows where she started from.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein reimagines its source to emphasize the roles of the women. How have opinions changed over the years about how girls and young women should be portrayed in literature?

  • Should science be governed by morality? Are there subjects too dangerous to be explored in the name of science?

  • Why is Frankenstein still read centuries after its initial publication? What themes resonate with modern readers?

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Themes & Topics

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