Book Reviews: The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein & The Butchering Art

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Hello blog readers!  And (I hope) book readers!  I’m back with a couple more recommendations to quench your horror thirst.  The first is The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein by Kiersten White, the author of Slayer (which I recommended in my last entry).  The second is The Butchering Art: Joseph Lister’s Quest to Transform the Grisly World of Victorian Medicine by Lindsey Fitzharris.  You know the saying “truth is stranger than fiction?”  Well, The Butchering Art shows that truth is not only stranger than fiction but far more disgusting than you could imagine.  So let’s get to it!

The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein by Kiersten White is a retelling of Frankenstein.  Before I started reading, I thought that the story would take place in modern times but was pleasantly surprised to see that it seems to be set in the same time period as Frankenstein.  This time, the story is told from the perspective of Elizabeth Lavenza (the love interest of Victor Frankenstein in the original novel and Henry Frankenstein in the 1931 film adaptation).  In The Dark Descent, Elizabeth is “adopted” as a child to live with the Frankensteins and basically keep a young, troubled Victor in check.  Through her perspective and flashbacks, we get to see not only how Victor becomes the monster creator we all know and love but how Elizabeth’s relationship with Victor colors how she sees herself.  The Dark Descent is a very enjoyable book from a storytelling standpoint.  White does a great job at painting the world in which our characters live and giving the reader some twists and turns that I didn’t see coming.  I also really enjoyed the character of Elizabeth- she’s multi-layered and complex. I was initially unsure of how I felt about Elizabeth but, just like real life (at least some of the time), I grew to like her the more I spent time with her.  But aside from the storytelling, my main takeaway from this book is the idea that we’re all “creations” of something or someone – we’re all influenced by things and other people – and vice versa. The hard part is figuring out who you are apart from those influences and defining yourself the way you want.  At least, that’s what I got from this book. Maybe you’ll read it and take away something different. Or maybe you’ll just enjoy it! That’s fine too.

My second recommendation, The Butchering Art by Lindsey Fitzharris, contains a lot of anecdotes that could be considered torture porn.  Except they’re all true and took place during an unfortunate period of history before anesthesia and surgical sanitation.  This book might make you rethink your answer if you’re ever asked what other time period you would like to live in. I definitely wouldn’t say The Butchering Art is an enjoyable read, but I don’t think it’s supposed to be.  There’s nothing enjoyable about the conditions under which people had to endure surgeries pre-1900s.  Can you imagine undergoing removal of a tumor from your jawbone – a twenty-four-minute procedure that involved slicing off pieces of the tumor and jawbone – without anesthetic?  Or having a surgeon operate on you using the same blood and pus-covered instruments as he used during a previous operation and without washing his hands or changing the sheets soaked with another person’s blood?  It’s completely disgusting and unbelievable and yet exactly how things were done for a very long time. As a result of the unsanitary conditions, infections after surgery were widespread and common, and it was a widely held belief that people were actually safer being treated at home than in the hospital.  But thanks to Joseph Lister, a British surgeon, the idea of sterile surgery eventually became the way of the world. Fitzharris’s The Butchering Art is vivid, detailed, and well-researched and at times hard to read thanks to the stomach-churning anecdotes.  Next time I go to a doctor’s office or hospital and look around at the (hopefully) clean and sterile environment, I’ll definitely be thinking of Lister.  I usually like to recommend fun reads within the horror genre, but those authors have to get their inspiration from somewhere. There’s a great deal of inspiration in The Butchering Art.

Happy Reading!

Kia is a co-host of the Half Assed Horror Cast. Her favorite horror novel is Scott Smith’s ‘The Ruins,’ fave slasher is Freddy Krueger, and her favorite TV show of all time is ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer.’ 

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