Monday, September 5, 2016

This Monstrous Thing by Mackenzi Lee

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This review was written by: C
Received: Library
Publication Date of Book: September 2015
Pages: 384
Stars: 5/5

Official Summary:

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…

My Thoughts:

I have a slight obsession with reading recreations of older tales. From Brom's The Child Thief (a re-imagining of Peter Pan) to Jim McDoniel's An Unattractive Vampire (a reboot of the vampire genre that brings back the frightening vampires of old), I absolutely love it when authors take a well-established idea or story and alter it so that it becomes something unique, original, and utterly fantastic. This Monstrous Thing is one of these tales.

Lee chose to take Mary Shelley's Frankenstein as a basis for a riveting new tale that was true to its source material, yet distinctive and superb in its own right. I have read a few stories that are based off of Frankenstein, but This Monstrous Thing takes the cake and is by far the best one that I have come across, especially due to the countless new elements and emotions that I haven't found in any other Frankenstein retelling!

At the center of Lee's novel are Oliver and Alasdair, two brothers and Shadow Boys who have done nothing but constantly move due to their family's hidden profession of fitting disabled individuals with mechanical parts. What they do is forbidden, as society views altering anything that's made in God's Image as an insult to the Almighty Creator. Consequently, having mechanical parts results in the loss of one's humanity. As the summary already mentions, Oliver is killed and brought back to life by Alasdair -- a feat that has never been accomplished before. Thus, Oliver is both an anomaly and a dangerous creature.  As a result, the story explores a strained relationship between brothers and the implications of upsetting the laws of nature in order to bring a loved one back from the dead.

For some reason, I have always found deep relationships between brothers to be fascinating. In fact, This Monstrous Thing  slightly reminded me of Fullmetal Alchemist, a riveting story that focuses on Edward and Alphonse Elric, two brothers who attempt to use alchemy to bring their mother back from the dead. However, they disobey the laws of equivalent exchange and their transmutation fails. As a result, Alphonse loses his body and Edward loses a leg. In order to bring Alphonse back and bind his soul to a suit of armor, Edward sacrifices another limb -- his right arm.


After this incident transpires, Edward is fitted with automail (mechanical limbs) and devotes his life to restoring Alphonse to his human form. He expresses an undying devotion to right the wrongs that are undeniably his fault and will stop at nothing to attain that which he most desires.


Oliver and Alasdair have a relationship that, in some ways, parallels that of Edward and Alphonse Elric. Alasdair can't live with the loss of his brother and does everything in his power to bring the one  person that he loves back to life -- even if that means resorting to means that are considered taboo. 

Lee did a phenomenal job paralleling Oliver and Alasdair with the original Frankenstein, too. Obviously, Alasdair is Frankenstein and Oliver his monster. However, I believe the relationship between Frankenstein and his creation, rather than locations, events, and supporting characters, is the most important aspect that Lee chose to incorporate from Shelley's original story. Plus, Lee's world is more steampunk, which is an alteration that I really enjoyed. However, I was most drawn in by the  deep, heart-wrenching bond of Oliver and Alasdair that was filled with confusion, regret, despair, and utter turmoil. Consequently, I believe that Lee explored one of the most important aspects of Frankenstein -- what it truly means to be human.

It's a philosophical argument: Can anyone that's been altered or brought back to life even be considered human, especially if they no longer seem to be the same person you once loved? Alasdair has to contend with his mistakes and the events that led to Oliver's resurrection,  and he may have to come to the realization that the being who came back to life may not be his beloved brother.

At the end of this story, I believe that one of the most important lessons comes from a particular quote from the book: “We're all monsters. We're all careless and cruel in the end.” This quote may insinuate that humans can be monstrous by nature. There's cruelty in destroying that which you fear and don't understand, there's cruelty in bringing another back to life due to your own despair, and there's cruelty in taking your new life and lashing out at a world that hates you. The point is, that there's a monster lurking in every single one of us. However, we can try our damnedest to repress the beast and do the right thing, no matter what it will cost us -- you have to give up your selfish desires and do what's best for  everyone else in the world, rather than simply thinking of yourself and lashing out at everyone else.

In the end, This Monstrous Thing has become one of my favorite books. Lee is more than capable of weaving a thrilling and fantastical tale filled with characters that are striking, real, and heartwarming. I also loved her incorporation of Mary Shelley herself as a character in the story and the book Frankenstein  being based upon Mary's time with Oliver and Alasdair. But most of all, I loved the profound bond that existed between two brothers whose lives were altered by a single mistake.


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