THE PLOT: ‘Our Hideous Progeny’ by C.E. McGill is a historical, gothic horror. 1850, London, Mary is the great niece of Victor Frankenstein and she’s determined to become an eminent scientist. But Mary was born a scullery maid’s bastard, plus there’s the problem of being a woman, so the path isn’t easy. When Mary finds her great uncle’s journals, she stumbles upon an idea for an experiment. It’s a way to create something that would prove her scientific credentials and it could even be the solution to the mystery of life…
RATING: This was a very fun, addictive book that I raced through. I’m a huge fan of historical fiction and the gothic setting and haunting imagery of this novel is spot on. It’s a tad long but there was enough forward plot and drama to keep me engaged. It dragged a little in the middle but the reintroduction of Mr Clarke was a welcome development which escalated the stakes. Similarly, tying the creation of Frankenstein’s monster to the loss/birth of a child worked well to heighten Mary’s mental state. In general, I loved Mary’s characterisation as an outspoken, wilful woman as it fit with her backstory. This is a solid four-star novel. It won’t be in my top books of the year but I’m glad I read it.
GOOD BITS: Usually I’m a bit picky about first-person past-tense for historical fiction, but it worked well as the prologue immediately established that this is Mary telling her own story. You get the sense that she might not be a reliable narrator, which adds to the tension throughout. The first chapter is so well written, I was completely invested. It has the perfect amount of forward plot and backstory, establishing the main character yet containing little surprises for the reader. I actually re-read it to see if I could learn something for my own creative writing.
NOT SO GOOD BITS: This is a strange criticism but the quotes at the beginning of each chapter annoyed me. They were too long and cumbersome. Given the book is split into five parts, it would be better to have a Mary Shelley quote at the beginning of each section. Overall, this novel is written with a modern lens in its treatment of feminism (kind of works), sexuality (I could suspend disbelief) and race (a bit clunky and a conversation about privilege was crammed in). I didn’t mind this but it reflects how this is a nice novel that ticks a lot of boxes in the current publishing landscape but doesn’t have the level of depth I need to fall in love with a book.
OVERALL: I’d recommend this book to lovers of ‘The Spirit Engineer’ by A.J. West or ‘The Miniaturist’ by Jessie Burton or, obviously, ‘Frankenstein’ by Mary Shelley. If you love a little bit of spooky, dark historical fiction set in an age where the line between science and magic was blurred, pick this one up.
Thank you to DoubleDay (part of Penguin Random House) for my #gifted copy in exchange for an honest review. This book was released in May 2023 and is available to order on my bookshop.org profile.
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