Thursday, October 20, 2022

Unnatural Creatures by Kris Waldherr takes a fresh, revelatory look at the women from Frankenstein

Even those who haven’t read Frankenstein firsthand know its premise: an obsessed scientist creates a monster and instills him with life, and in doing so he sows the seeds of his own destruction and that of the people closest to him. Conceptualized by the teenaged Mary Shelley in 1816 (its creation story has become its own legend), the novel is an early classic of science fiction and a cautionary tale about unrestrained ambition.

Reading Frankenstein and its characters isn’t strictly necessary before beginning Kris Waldherr’s stellar companion novel/tribute, Unnatural Creatures, but you’ll gain greater appreciation for the author’s accomplishment the more prior knowledge you have. (Disclaimer: I hadn’t read the original but took advantage of a summary found online.)

Unnatural Creatures – the title has several meanings – homes in on the perspective of three women who were secondary characters in Shelley’s novel. Caroline, Victor Frankenstein’s devoted mother and the wife of one of Geneva’s syndics (city officials), worries about her family’s future. Elizabeth Lavenza, Caroline’s exquisitely beautiful ward, has been raised alongside Victor and, out of love and gratitude for being rescued as a child, knows that she’ll marry him after she’s grown. Fate steps in, however, and Elizabeth find her loyalties divided when her affections turn in a different direction. The third viewpoint is that of Justine Moritz, a disabled servant  Caroline takes in after saving her from an abusive mother.

This is no thinly derivative work of fan fiction but a fully realized historical novel that takes advantage of the tensions in the setting of late 18th-century Geneva, as revolutionary unrest spills over from Paris. By drawing the spotlight away from Victor and toward the women in his life, we gradually view evidence for the monster's creation. This amplifies the sense of brooding dread. He lurks in the background – sensed, perhaps glimpsed in shadow, but initially unseen by our protagonists until the terrible truth is made clear.

Further details about the plot are best left for you to discover on your own, save that Waldherr adds considerable dimension to characters from the original work that will have you considering it, and them, in a fresh way going forward. Electrifying and creepy, with considerable insight into societal roles and expectations for women, Unnatural Creatures is a perfect read for the spooky season.

Unnatural Creatures was released by Muse Publications this month, and thanks to the author for sending me a PDF.


  1. This book sounds so intriguing, Sarah! Thanks, as always, for helping me discover new authors.

  2. I'm glad the blog put this novel on your radar! It's worth seeking out.