Unnatural Creatures: A Novel of the Frankenstein Women by Kris Waldherr — Book Review
From the desk of Syrie James
Unnatural Creatures by Kris Waldherr brings to life the stories of three women in Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein: Victor Frankenstein’s mother Caroline; his fiancé Elizabeth Lavenza; and the Frankenstein’s servant Justine Moreau, a character who Waldherr gives a fascinating background and a whole new lease on life.
Mary Shelley’s original, classic horror novel about Victor Frankenstein, a young scientist who creates a creature in an unorthodox scientific experiment, is told from the points of view of three men: a sea captain who meets Victor Frankenstein at the end of his life; Frankenstein himself; and the monster Frankenstein made and abandoned in horror. The women in Shelley’s tale, although they play important parts in the plot, are minor characters and only seen through the eyes of men.
In this new version we are treated to a feminist retelling that provides a whole new look at a story we thought we knew—but did we? Waldherr’s intense research is evident throughout, in both her portrayal of the characters and events, and in her exploration of the setting of the story, a time when terrifying revolutions engulfed 18th-century Europe.
In Waldherr’s tale, Caroline Frankenstein is a strong-willed, devoted wife and mother who dedicates herself to helping the less fortunate. The lovely Elizabeth Lavenza, rescued as a child by Caroline from a life of maltreatment and poverty, knows she can only repay the debt by one day becoming Victor’s bride. But when Elizabeth falls in love with someone else, her heart is torn. The stalwart servant Justine Moreau, another victim of abusive childhood whom Caroline rescues, is devoted to the Frankensteins, until a tragedy changes her forever and propels her on an unexpected journey that sets her up against Victor’s monster.
For most of the novel, the women have no idea what keeps Victor away from home for six years, what he has been working on, and no clue to the cause of his growing madness (but the astute reader knows). How could anyone imagine that he has brought to life a “creature” from the flesh of the unliving—a monster who will wreak havoc on everyone that Victor Frankenstein loves, in his quest for vengeance against the “father” who abandoned him?
It’s been years since I read Frankenstein and Waldherr’s book sent me scurrying back to re-read the original, which is very different from the way I’d remembered it. Unnatural Creatures can be enjoyed and appreciated without having read Frankenstein, but the experience will be improved if you read or skim it before or after.
There is a marvelous twist in Waldherr’s tale that I never saw coming and made me gasp (which I’m sure Mary Shelley never envisioned and yet works perfectly with her tale), and I relished the ending. In summation:
Kris Waldherr’s “Unnatural Creatures” is a thrilling, extraordinary tour de force that imagines new depths to the Frankenstein story and brings it to fascinating life in a tale of adventure, love, betrayal, genius, madness, life, death, and good vs. evil. Bravo! I will never see Shelley’s Frankenstein the same way again.
It is not a novel for the faint of heart, but for those who enjoy a retake on a classic and are intrepid enough to undergo the harrowing, bone-chilling journey, it is highly recommended. 5 stars.
- Title: Unnatural Creatures
- Author: Kris Waldherr
- Genre: Gothic Suspense, Horror
- Length: (370) pages
- Format: Paperback, eBook, audiobook
- ASIN: B09YKS8H7L
PURCHASE LINKS available at Kris’s website.
Kris Waldherr’s debut novel The Lost History of Dreams received a starred Kirkus review and was named a CrimeReads best book of the year. Her other books for adults and children include Bad Princess, Doomed Queens, and The Book of Goddesses. Her fiction has won fellowships from the Virginia Center of the Creative Arts and a reading grant from Poets & Writers. As a visual artist, Kris created the Goddess Tarot, and she’s had illustrations exhibited in the Ruskin Library, the Mazza Museum of International Art from Picture Books, and the National Museum of Women in the Arts. Kris lives and works in Brooklyn in a Victorian-era house with her family.
Have you read Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein? What do you think about this famous classic? Are you intrigued to read Waldherr’s untold take on the women in the story? I look forward to your thoughts!
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