Pride and Prometheus by John Kessel

– By J.W. Fox –

Pride and Prometheus is a genre mashup of two Victorian classics that have nothing to do with one another. Taking characters from arguably the first science fiction novel and introducing them to the ladies of Jane Austen’s classic romance, is the crossover you didn’t know you wanted. The story is embedded in the events of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein while also serving as a dark sequel to Price and Prejudice. This isn’t a parody or tongue-and-cheek remake like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. The novel attempts to match the gravity of its two predecessors with some success.

It is the story of Victor Frankenstein’s retreat from the monster after it killed his younger brother William. The monster haunts him, demanding he create a female companion for him. In return he will leave Victor alone and never harm another human being. Mary Bennet is sister to the protagonist of Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth Bennet. It has been sixteen years since the events of that novel and Mary is still unmarried, staring at impending spinsterhood.

Mary is intelligent, scientifically-inclined but struggles at talents that the men of Victorian England find appealing, such as singing. She also believes herself to be less physically appealing than her sisters, nearly all of whom have married. By chance, she meets Victor Frankenstein appreciating his passion for natural philosophy, and he notices her scientific curiosity and acumen. Unlike the Englishmen, Victor finds it an endearing quality. Unfortunately, he has no time for romance for he must do his monster’s bidding.

Both Mary and Victor are out of place in mid-19th century Victorian England. To be over the age of thirty, unmarried, and interested in science is simply weird. Mary has given up seeking out a husband and is unsure how she will endure the rest of her life taking care of her parents. If the world ever learned of Victor’s work and his monstrous creation, he would likely be charged with witchcraft and/or heresy. His ideas are considered abominations, assuming anyone would believe he succeeded. Without proof, most would consider him a weird foreigner who belongs in a sanitarium.

There are glimpses of the rigid, intolerant, and often cruel society of early 19th century Great Britain. Throughout, Mary and Victor must be careful not to cause panic or frighten the common folk with any mention of the monster or the true events that transpire. In Mary, Victor finds the only being that is able to comprehend what has happened and can sympathize. Unlike her sisters, she does not have a gentle disposition, capable of coping with the extraordinary and terrifying things she sees.

The novel borrows generously from Frankenstein but the Pride and Prejudice aspects are original. There were a few points where it felt like the author was playing on nostalgia, giving fans of both classics a bit of service, but overall this novel stands on its own.

Mary was the most interesting character and largely new. Jane Austen’s novel spends limited time developing Mary, giving Kessel more room in which to work. In contrast, there is not as much originality or depth to the characters from Frankenstein. Mixed in with original scenes are those with dialogue that felt as if it was parroting from the original work. The monster and Victor seem to reiterate some of their famous declarations from Mary Shelley’s classic.

Thematically, Pride and Prometheus simply cannot deliver on the depth and insight of its progenitors. It is fan fiction although that label does not quite do it justice. The novel is mostly a supplement to Frankenstein, a work of horror and science fiction meant to shock and enthrall the reader. It adds a little to the classic tale but simply is unable to really break new ground. There are some surprises, and the ending is satisfying in some respects, but probably will not leave a lasting impression. What it will do, is rekindle your love for two classics.

 

J.W. Fox is the Editor of Prescientcifi.com and author of two novels: The Fifth World and the sequel The Fifth World: The Times That Try Men’s Souls under the pen name Jacob Foxx. When he is not reading or writing science fiction, he works for a small biotech company in Raleigh, North Carolina.