Book Review: Unnatural Creatures by Kris Waldherr
I thoroughly enjoyed this thrilling, suspenseful story, but it also made me think. Frankenstein is one of the most emulated, revised, and enduring novels of its kind. Mary Shelley’s book was written as her contribution to an informal contest between friends way back in 1818. Unnatural Creatures is inspired by that classic work of gothic horror, but stands apart in its readability and emphasis on the role of women.
I never considered how much was happening in Europe at that time: revolutions overthrowing monarchs; inventions and processes transforming industry; groundbreaking discoveries galvanizing medicine. The resulting turbulence profoundly challenged social rules and customs and also brought new challenges. Determining right from wrong was no longer obvious or proscribed.
Rich in historical detail, Unnatural Creatures is faithful to the allegorical spirit of the original, while broadening the scope and deepening the meaning in light of today’s conditions. In rejuvenating the monster’s tale, Kris Waldherr brings the era of enlightenment to life, making all that turmoil relevant to the story.
The author’s voice matches Shelley’s antiquated, formal style, but is easily understood by the modern reader. Waldherr’s versions of Victor Frankenstein’s mother, Caroline; his betrothed, Elizabeth; and his mother’s attendant, Justine; are distinct characters, heroic in their own ways, and each are immensely relatable. Called by dire circumstances, each shuns the passive role expected of them, though they must fight to overcome their natural limitations and the unnatural limitations society places on them. As they are fleshed out, their profound influence on each other as well as on the fates of the entire family conveys the tragic story to a poignant culmination.
I’m grateful to the author, Kris Waldherr, Muse Publishing, and NetGalley for a free advance reader’s copy of this excellent novel. I was by turns fascinated, horrified, repulsed, left bereft, and somehow hopeful. My review is given without obligation: Unnatural Creatures is an excellent read and a completely worthy companion to Mary Shelley’s legacy.