This is a critique of the Eighth and final in the steampunk anthology ‘Mechanized Masterpieces’ edited by Penny Freeman. The purpose is not to show all the mistakes and short comings, or say that I am a better writer, because clearly I’m not. This is simply an exercise in critical reading with the goal of improving my own writing, and encouraging great writing from any reader that passes by.
There will be lots of SPOILERS here. You have been warned.
**Edit** The original review cited Megan Wiseman as the author by mistake, my apologies to Alyson and Megan! The review has been corrected.
‘Lavenza, or the Modern Galatea’ by Alyson Grauer is the iconic ideal of Mechanized Masterpieces and an excellent capstone for the anthology. Lavenza tells a tale that falls in parallel with Mary W. Shelly’s Frankenstein from the perspective of a side character and adds a fantastic steampunk twist. One of the things that I really enjoyed about Lavenza was how it used the original literature and nestled alongside, without disrupting it, while at the same time bringing an engaging and unique story of its own.
Elizabeth, Frankenstein’s young fiancée and bride, is the protagonist and focal point of the story. We get to see her develop during the timeline of Shelly’s original work as she discovers the truth about her own more-than-human nature, and finds her history and purpose. I really liked how Grauer wove the fascinating contrasts between Frankenstein and his creation, and his mother and her’s. I think it was a fitting juxtaposition between the original horror theme of Shelly, with its warnings against unrestrained science, and the steampunk theme employed by Grauer, which speaks to a hopefulness in technology that is tempered by a Victorian sense of virtue.
I think that the plot and development of the story were really quite good. Still, I found the beginning of the Grauer’s story a bit slow due to the considerable amount of introspection without much exciting action. Grauer would do well to take that with a grain of salt however, since that is the very same problem suffered by my short story. Sometimes, introspection is hard to get around when trying to set up a plot.
Grauer’s writing style wasn’t quite as stunning as some of the others in the anthology, but I think that the creative plot and careful unveiling of the mystery more than made up for it. I complained once before about the use of a wandering gypsy as a plot tool in another of the Mechanized Masterpiece stories. Grauer uses a similar gypsy, except that here, I have no problem with it. Instead of employing a prophecy to force two separate plot aspects to merge, Grauer uses the words of the gypsy to kick-start the plot in a way that doesn’t feel contrived. The difference is subtle, but I think important.
Lastly, I was a little undecided about the end of Grauer’s story. Having Elizabeth venture out into the night as a super-heroine vigilante seeking to protect her beloved Frankenstein points any future plots, or stories, in a very different style than either Shelly’s original literature, or Grauer’s story up till that point. Based on the final section of Lavenza, my mind half expected the unwritten epilogue to have the tender-hearted Elizabeth appear suddenly in calf-high boots, with a six-gun adorned corset, and a patch over one eye. Still, I think I would have been unsatisfied if Elizabeth hadn’t survived and gone on to accomplish her purpose. Some part of me just wishes for a way to maintain Grauer’s gentle loving Elizabeth, and, or, Shelly’s sense of struggle against an overpowering evil.
All in all, Lavenza was a great and very creative tale. I enjoyed it much and think it finished off the anthology on an excellent note.
Congrats to all the authors of Mechanized Masterpieces. I enjoyed reading the anthology made up from all of your hard work. Thanks Penny Freeman for compiling and perfecting each piece, and giving me the opportunity to read this great collection. I will be eagerly awaiting Xchyler Publishing’s next anthology!