My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I have to confess it took me a little while to get into it but I ended up falling a little in love with this modern reworking of Frankenstein. It was a little different to what I was expecting but it’s one of those books that I think will buzz around in my head for a while which is always a good sign.
The story is set in the future some time after some terrible event has devastated civilization and left the survivors missing parts (an arm, a leg, an ear) and with an aversion to any kind of technology. For main character Nell Crane however the part she’s missing is a heart. Her father, the scientist famed for creating realistic artificial parts to fill the gaps, gives her a clockwork heart. Feeling like an outsider and under pressure to do something amazing as her “contribution” to society Nell is inspired by a mannequin’s hand she finds on the beach to create a companion for herself. To do so though she’s going to have to break a lot of rules and possibly lose the one friend she has.
There’s something a little uncomfortable about this story, which I think is why I initially found it a bit of a struggle. I wasn’t entirely sure how I felt about Nell creating someone to understand and love her. I do have a lot of sympathy for her, she feels like an outsider, she’s ashamed of her clockwork heart, has an aversion to being touched and seems very alone but her solution of creating a person just feels selfish and reckless. I did love her determination and her passion but I found it frustrating how she separates herself from those around her and doesn’t really try.
I have to confess the relationships between Nell and those around her also confused me. I couldn’t quite figure out how I felt about them and possibly more importantly couldn’t work out how I was supposed to feel about them. Should I be rooting for a romance or upset at their lack of understanding? The characters are wonderfully complex and interesting and I suspect the author may have intentionally written it this way but I found myself moving from like to dislike and back again at a rapid pace.
Potential romantic interest (or sex pest) Oliver was particularly intriguing to me and I’m still not sure how I feel about him. He and Nell more or less grew up together and he’s actively pursuing her but it’s not clear what his motives are. Whether he’s truly interested in a romantic way or whether he’s more mercenary and simply looking for more access to her father. Certainly from her initial reactions Nell seems genuinely repulsed by him despite everyone trying to push them together. He comes on hard and refuses to take no for an answer. But, as the story progresses there’s something about him that grows on you (and Nell) and it seems like her feelings towards him may change.
Similarly best friend Ruby doesn’t always seem like much of a friend. She pushes Nell to do things that she doesn’t want to do, or that make her uncomfortable for selfish reasons. She keeps secrets, talks about her behind her back and is trying to force her into a relationship she doesn’t want. But, there are moments where you really see Ruby and she’s not a bad person, just not perfect, and a lot of the problems are due to Nell keeping her and everyone else at arms length.
It is great to watch how all of these relationships develop and shift over the course of the novel and my feelings did shift and change towards them. Something I’m not sure has ever happened quite so much with any other story.
The world building is also wonderfully done by the author. The aftermath and devastation of what seems to have been an apocalyptic event is all around them giving it a very sinister and gothic feel but the new society growing out of the ashes is also fascinating. There’s so much fear and control, but there’s also the suggestion of something better.
It really is a fascinating story that makes you question just what it means to be human and what it is that makes you a monster while also looking at the role of technology in society. I also have to praise the author for creating such a challenging and unique central character. I can’t wait to see what she writes next.
Nell Crane has always been an outsider. In a city devastated by an epidemic, where survivors are all missing parts—an arm, a leg, an eye—her father is the famed scientist who created the biomechanical limbs everyone now uses. But Nell is the only one whose mechanical piece is on the inside: her heart. Since the childhood operation, she has ticked. Like a clock, like a bomb. As her community rebuilds, everyone is expected to contribute to the society’s good . . . but how can Nell live up to her father’s revolutionary idea when she has none of her own?
Then she finds a mannequin hand while salvaging on the beach—the first boy’s hand she’s ever held—and inspiration strikes. Can Nell build her own companion in a world that fears advanced technology? The deeper she sinks into this plan, the more she learns about her city—and her father, who is hiding secret experiments of his own.