I received this book for free from the Publicist in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.Pride and Prometheus by John Kessel
Published by Saga Press on February 13 2018
Genres: Adult, Horror
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The nitty-gritty: A highly inventive mash-up of Pride and Prejudice and Frankenstein, told in pitch perfect prose that evokes the styles of both Jane Austen and Mary Shelley.
What do you get when you take two beloved classics, one gothic and one romantic, and mash them together? In this case, you get a fascinating tale of what might happen if Mary Bennet from Pride and Prejudice and Victor Frankenstein from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein were to meet. The result was what I expected in some cases, but not at all what I expected in others. In short, I really enjoyed Kessel’s reimagining of “what happens next,” as he weaves together the characters of both stories and creates something new, much like Victor Frankenstein created his monster. The book isn’t perfect, as I did have a few issues with the structure, but overall I highly recommend this, especially if you’re familiar with both of the original classics.
The story begins thirteen years after the end of Pride and Prejudice. Mary Bennet is still unmarried at the age of thirty-two, which makes her an “old maid” in the eyes of society. She’s come to reluctantly accept her fate, focusing instead on her curiosity about the natural world and using her intelligence to study fossils and other aspects of science. Her younger sister Kitty is also single, much to the chagrin of their mother, although Mrs. Bennet is thrilled to still have two daughters to “make time with” and take care of her. Mary has recently made the acquaintance of Mr. Charles Woodleigh, an older gentleman of forty-three who she meets during a fossil hunt. Mr. Woodleigh seems impressed with Mary’s knowledge of and interest in fossils, and Mary thinks this could blossom into a relationship and maybe even marriage.
Meanwhile, in alternating chapters, we meet Victor Frankenstein, an unhappy and tortured man who is on the run, trying to stay one step ahead of the Creature he made from parts of dead bodies and animated with life through the use of electricity, who has threatened him with harm if Victor doesn’t “create” a bride for him. While visiting her sister Lizzy in Pemberley, Mary and Victor meet each other at a ball, and this is where the story really begins. When Mary spots the Creature in the nearby woods, she eventually convinces Victor to explain his existence and the odd relationship between the two of them.
In a third point of view, we get to know the Creature himself, as he follows Victor relentlessly across Great Britain, determined to hold him to his bargain. After Mary and Kitty find themselves caught in a thunderstorm, Kitty becomes gravely ill, and it’s at this point that the lives of Mary, Victor and the Creature become inexorably intertwined.
If you have even a passing familiarity with the source material, you can guess what’s coming. I wasn’t surprised when Kitty fell ill, and I wasn’t surprised at the events that happened after that. (Obviously I’m not going to come out and tell you what happens, but you can easily connect the dots yourself!) But the charm of this book doesn’t rely on story twists, and knowing what’s going to happen doesn’t detract from the reading experience at all. What I loved about Pride and Prometheus was the way the author juggled so many elements and nearly seamlessly brought together two completely different stories. I have to admit I’m much more familiar with Pride and Prejudice than I am with Frankenstein, and so I was surprised by a few shocking things that happened at the end. But keep in mind that Frankenstein is a mostly tragic tale, and Kessel doesn’t shy away from the tragedy, which makes his story so good.
As a huge P&P fan, I loved that the author focuses on the two least-liked sisters in the original story. Mary is plain and has little talent, but Kessel gives the character new life, making her into a thoughtful, intelligent and fiercely loyal woman. Mary literally goes through hell in this story. She leaves the comforts of home to search for Victor, who is still trying to avoid the Creature, and the world does not treat her kindly. One of my favorite sections in the story is when Mary and the Creature (who she eventually names “Adam”) join together to help each other survive the long, arduous journey to Scotland, where Victor has supposedly fled to. Mary is still scared of Adam, mostly due to his terrifying appearance and his violent tendencies, but they form an uneasy friendship that I loved. And Kitty is vital to this tale, although readers may not like what she goes through.
There are also appearances (very brief, however!) by Lizzy and Darcy, Jane and Bingley, Mr. Collins and more, which was fun. But this is not their story, and their roles are merely supporting ones.
While Kessel imagines the lives of the characters after Pride and Prejudice ends, he very closely follows the events of Frankenstein. I had to brush up a bit on the story on the Wikipedia website, and I was delighted that he hits all the major plot points of Frankenstein, including the reasons for Victor’s deep despair and the murderous motivations of Adam, who has had no say in his existence and now simply wants another creature like himself to build a life with. Even more impressive is how the author incorporates Mary’s story into the horrific lives of Victor and Adam. Mary goes through incredible changes during this story, and while I brushed her off as nothing more than a side character in Pride and Prejudice, she clearly takes on a leading role here, and I grew to respect her strengths.
As for negatives, the only thing that didn’t really work for me was the constant change of POV. I appreciate what the author was trying to do, showing us the world through the eyes of the three main characters and how their world views and beliefs differ. But I found parts of the story to be very repetitive, as Kessel recounts the same scenes two, sometimes three different ways, merely to illustrate his characters’ differences. I’m not sure it added much to the story, and in fact, I would have been OK with reading only two of the three viewpoints. (Although I’m not sure which one I would drop if I could choose, Victor’s or Adam’s!)
It’s also worth pointing out that the story blurb is a bit misleading. This is most certainly not a romance between Mary and Victor, although Mary longs for a husband who understands her, even though she’s well past the usual age of marriage. She thinks Victor might be a possibility, but Victor has so much baggage that he can’t see past his own troubles, let alone make room in his life for a woman.
The last chapter, which takes place six years after the climax of the story, was a little jarring at first, until I realized what the author was doing: bringing his story full circle to coincide with the way Frankenstein begins. I liked this framing device, which wraps things up fairly neatly and gives us a hopeful vision of Mary’s future. I’m not sure whether the release of Pride and Prometheus this year was deliberate, as 2018 happens to be the 200th anniversary of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, but I couldn’t be happier that I had the chance to experience this well-written and imagined tale.
Big thanks to Wunderkind PR and the publisher for supplying a review copy.