A. E. Rought
Strange Chemistry 2012
In this modern day re-imagining of Shelley’s Frankenstein, Emma Gentry is one familiar with the dead (as one would like to expect from any good Gothic heroine). Well, she at least spends a lot of time in her local cemetery, desperately missing her recently deceased boyfriend Daniel while realising how the time has come to move on with her life. Surrounded by concerned friends and family, she’s just about getting back to normal when new guy at school, Alex, attracts her attention. It’s not his good looks that catch her eye, though he undoubtedly has them, nor is it his inordinately numerous scars, although they do make her wonder at their origin. What really makes Emma notice him is his odd, almost intangible resemblance to Daniel – something which she knows to be impossible but can’t quite ignore. As Emma and Alex start to spend more time together, she finds herself torn between the past and the present, unsure of which is which and certain that there is more to Alex, his sinister father and his latticework of scarring than meets the eye.
Emma is pretty emo. Obviously, she’s grieving and obviously, she’s not been at her best since Daniel’s death but one suspects that she was probably a bit emo before hand. The cemetery was most definitely a favourite hangout even before her recent tragedy and it’s easy to imagine her wearing perhaps just a little too much eyeliner. However, there’s nothing wrong with the odd Emo, and Emma is incredibly likable. Confident at school (her ability to trade insults with Daniel’s best friend is both funny and speaks of a real backbone) and rebellious yet believably in need of her parents support at home, she’s very easy to relate to. Her sneaking suspicion that Alex may be, er, more than the sum of his parts is more a gut instinct than anything else but she sticks to her guns, even while reeling in dismay from the Instalove ™ that she finds herself in the grip of.
Alex himself is a really well-written character. Confused, funny, caring and clearly entirely screwed up his interactions with Emma are incredibly touching. He has fewer questions than she does about their instant bond but as his carefully constructed life starts to come apart at the seams his vulnerability is tangible. His relationship with his father could have been explored more (the relationship being key to the original Frankenstein) as could his reaction to the truth (some interesting psychology to be explored there, one might imagine) but all in all he is a likable, sympathetic and paradoxically horrifying creation. Other characters pepper the story and are all well drawn. Emma’s best friend Bree is supportive and also delightfully flippant while the relationship that Emma has with her mother is surprisingly complex and, well, real. Daniel’s best friend sniffs around Emma in a way that is as disturbing as the core story and becomes creepier as the book progresses – a triumph in a story that is pretty creepy to begin with.
Broken makes no bones about the fact that it is written in the Gothic tradition and A
E Rought has been largely successful. All the requisite fictional tropes appear –
mysterious and oddly attractive stranger,
unexplained accidents, spooky manor houses and questioning of the
heroine’s sanity (in this case, largely by herself) and are handled beautifully
(Emma’s walk through the grounds of Alex’s house is stomach-churningly
gruesome). Equally, the writing echoes
that seen in all the best Gothic novels, swinging between heavy hyperbole and
sly humour. My one criticism is that the
ending is rather swiftly resolved and not particularly true to the original,
which was disappointing yet unsurprising.
However, it is still a relatively satisfying conclusion, although it
would have been interesting to follow the remaining characters slightly
longer. Equally, sections of the text
are sometimes a little difficult to read but as this review is based on an ARC,
it has to be assumed that all small glitches will be resolved prior to the
book’s publication in January 2013.
The second Gothic novel to appear recently in YA fiction, Broken is perhaps not quite as slick as Sarah Rees Brennan’s Unspoken (review here) but in terms of characterisation and trueness to the original form, it is easily as good and in some cases better. Certainly, as with all good re-imaginings it should encourage those who read it to pick up Shelley’s Frankenstein as well as Dracula (lovingly referred to throughout). Interesting, sinister and awfully good fun, Broken is an excellent introduction to the world of Gothic novels.
Reviewed by Splendibird, Broken isn't available until January 2013 but Mary Shelley's Frankenstein is a great All Hallow's Read. Thank you to the publisher for providing us with a copy of Broken.