At this point, most classic monsters have been so frequently reimagined that we tend to take them for granted. One of the exceptions to this rule is Frankenstein (and his monster)– while there are plenty of modernizations, adaptations, and reinventions, it doesn’t feel like Frankenstein has been as thoroughly explored as, say, werewolves or vampires (duh). For that reason, Franken-Fatale is a truly novel concept. Imagine a world in which Victor Frankenstein’s technology was not only real but commonplace, one in which death is virtually meaningless and the lifestyles of the rich and the famous have hit staggering levels of gory, violent decadence and you’ll have some idea of the world in which this book takes place. At its best Franken-Fatale is an incredibly imaginative concept with moments of great world-building and an engaging supporting cast of characters. Unfortunately, there are also a lot of technical errors and missteps which hamper the overall reading experience.
Franken-Fatale follows the adventures of a reanimated eighties pop star on a journey to prove that she’s not the heartless monster that she seems to be. Rita Venus is washed up, leading a life of debauchery propped up by her quickly fading stardom. As her life falls apart she is forced to confront not only her waning popularity but her personal shortcomings, largely her selfishness and inability to see outside of herself. Rita, along with a talking monkey and what appears to be the original Frankenstein’s monster, set out to deliver one of the last remaining living humans to a sanctuary for the not-yet deceased. Hijinx, partying, and extreme violence ensues.
Let’s start with the good– the book is a lot of fun. The concept of reanimation allows for a lot of interesting worldbuilding, especially where things like limb replacement and gladiatorial bloodsports are concerned. The author takes a lot of time to play with the possibilities, and the whole situation lends itself to violent, splattery tongue in cheek humor. Bennett never takes things too seriously, even when they are decidedly dark. The story is also a lot more expansive than I’d imagined at the start and takes us from a tour of a bratty rich person’s life to a full-on ocean crossing adventure. There’s also a startling amount of character growth throughout. Rita is a pretty detestable character for the first sixty percent of the book, give or take, but as events unfold she genuinely becomes an enjoyable protagonist.
However, Franken-Fatale has a lot of glaring flaws where the writing itself is concerned. The vast majority of the novel is written in extremely short sentences, fragments more often than not. While this can be a valid stylistic choice in stream of consciousness writing, it usually feels far too choppy here. It’s one thing to use short, abrupt fragments as a way to punctuate certain thoughts and speed up writing, but in order for that style to really land it needs to be offset by more complete thoughts so that the reader doesn’t feel like they’re stumbling over themselves. When handled well stream of consciousness feels free-flowing and natural, but here it usually feels stilted and uneven. There are also a number of basic grammatical and word selection errors. It’s easy to ignore one or two of these in any given book, but there are quite a few here which stand out a lot and which are clearly not intentional. Had the book been more intensely edited it would be a much better reading experience, and it would have been fairly easy to join a few sentences here and there, polish up some of the phrasing, and present a technically stronger piece.
This one is tough to evaluate. If you’re in the market for a fast, delightfully profane, and altogether different sort of adventure it’s worth a shot, as long as you know going in that the book lacks a bit in the fundamentals. If I were grading this on style and heart alone, I’d give it an easy eight out of ten, but if I were strictly looking at the technical prowess of the writing it would be somewhere around a four. As such, my rating is the midpoint between the two.
6 out of 10 monkey guitarists