Rachel, a young American biographer researching the life of Mary Shelley in Montreux, Switzerland, is entangled and consumed by the escalating threads of her investigation. Shards of Shelley’s creation are exhumed from the past. Precious memories are hacked and sutured to the unthinkable. The unblemished flesh of the one she loves is stripped back to reveal what lies beneath—aspects of Frankenstein incised and ripped from the nineteenth century and transplanted into her own.
The archival records contained within the chiseled stone of Château de Chillon give some insight into a life long gone. It is, however, the contents of a document trunk that has remained unopened for generations that discloses what truly occurred in the idyllic Swiss Riviera village of Montreux to jolt the monster into existence. Personal letters and diaries detailing events, suppers, lectures, and conversations between Mary Shelley and her confidant, Doctor John Polidori, reveal a spiraling progression of horrors, dismembered cadavers, and uncertainties. Doctor Polidori assists the local gendarmerie in their investigation, unaware of how closely the knife will cut to Mary’s life and his own.
Rachel is drawn into the centuries-old conversations as she attempts to discern fact from fiction. But opening the trunk could not come at a more difficult time for Rachel. Her boyfriend has recently been killed in a motorbike accident and now, as she attempts to reconstruct her life, she is repeatedly confronted by a man of gigantic structure, of uncommon beauty, of intriguing origin.
Fire on the Water: A Companion to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein interweaves Rachel’s search with the plot of Frankenstein and the horrific occurrences of the summer of 1816 when Mary Shelley dared to dip her quill into the ink of her darkest of waking dreams.
The truth is given life.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I have probably read “Frankenstein” at least twenty times over my lifetime of reading, so when I saw this book, I had to read it.
When it comes to books that continue the story of a classic, there are two main things that I look for to help me decide if the book is worth recommending to others or not:
1. Does the author have a clear and precise understanding of the original work?
2. Are the events in the modern book plausible when held in contrast to the original work?
I can definitely say that P.J. Parker has met these qualifications, if not exceeded them.
So, here are my thoughts on “Fire on the Water.”
There were some particularly great moments in this story. Times when your own heart is beating as fast as that of the character you are experiencing things with. I loved that the author balanced moments of excitement with a deep back story of Shelley’s research and composition of her famed novel.
One thing that really captivated me about this book was the idea of a modern Frankenstein. Rather than simply recounting the events of the original book, P.J. Parker took things a step further and really built his own story with new, interesting characters.
I loved when he would begin the sentences the same way talking about Mary and then Rachel as if looking at two sides of the same coin. The way he gave both of them some common characteristics really helped me feel as if I were looking at women who could have been friends had they lived in the same time period.
I would have liked to have seen a bit more initial detail about Rachel. She was a well written character with all of the complexities a good main character should have, but I did not feel close to her in the beginning, as there was such a mystery surrounding her previous life.
Still, this was a very well written book with an interesting premise and a good pace. I liked the ending, and wonder if this could become a series as it seems there could be room for the author to expand these thoughts to another book.
If you love Frankenstein and enjoy mysterious novels with carefully researched history, then this will certainly be for you.
This review is based on a digital ARC from netgalley and the publisher.