There isn’t much better on Halloween than a classic monster story. Popular characters like Dracula and Frankenstein have lasted as long as they have for a reason – not only are the stories good, there’s also so many films and TV shows to pick from if you have a hankering for some classics. My personal favourite type of classic monster story though are the ones that take the original and spin it into something new, which is what these six books listed here have done. From Dracula to the Phantom of the Opera, these novels all do something new with the classic tales.
1. This Monstrous Thing – Mackenzi Lee
Mackenzi Lee is probably most well known for her bestselling YA novel, The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue, but in This Monstrous Thing – her 2015 debut, and another YA tale – she reimagines the story of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.
Set in Geneva 1818, in an alternate world, a desperate young man named Alasdair Finch brings his brother back to life using clockwork pieces. The transformation doesn’t go as planned, and when the novel Frankenstein is published (meta!) the people of Geneva are on the hunt for the real-life doctor and his ‘monster’.
Lee’s worldbuilding, whether historical or fantastical, is always excellent, and her understanding of the teenage mind is sympathetic and engaging. This Monstrous Thing is a great Halloween read if you like some emotions with your monsters.
2. Thrall – Avon Gale and Roan Parrish
Thrall is a queer, epistolary re-telling of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and it honestly is as much fun as it sounds.
Quirky couple Mina Murray and Lucy Westenra present a popular true-crime podcast, Shadowcast, along with their friend Arthur, social media manager. When Lucy’s brother, Harker, disappears whilst investigating Thrall, a new dating app, it is up to the crew – along with Professor Van Helsing – to find out what’s happened. If you know the story of Dracula, many of those names will be very familiar to you.
The entire story is told through text messages, emails, Tweets, blog posts and pretty much any other digital messaging format you can imagine. That might not be everyone’s cup of tea, and it can be difficult to begin with to really start following what is going on, but Thrall is worth the effort.
3. Night Spinner – Addie Thorley
Night Spinner is a high fantasy novel and a very loose retelling of Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame, which doesn’t require any prior knowledge of that story to enjoy.
Enebish is a Night Spinner, able to control the threads of darkness, until she loses control of her powers and is banished to a lonely monastery to live, maimed and guilt stricken, and with a new name: Enebish the Destoyer. When she goes chasing after a charismatic criminal in the hopes of being restored to the army she loves, Enebish is torn between duty and conscious when she discovers that capturing the criminal isn’t as easy as she thought it would be.
You don’t need to know about The Hunchback of Notre Dame to know that Quasimodo isn’t the true monster of the story, and the same can be said of Enebish in Night Spinner. So, to quote the Disney film – what makes a monster and what makes a man?
4. Maskerade – Terry Pratchett
Pratchett’s Maskerade is a parody, rather than a re-telling, sending up Gaston Leroux’s classic novel The Phantom of the Opera (by way of the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical) in Sir Terry’s usual irrepressible style. It also stands up as a fairly easy to follow installment of the Discworld series, if you were looking to dip your toe in this Halloween.
The witches of Lancre – Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg – go to visit Ankh-Morpork, and at the Opera House discover that the usually harmless Opera House ghost has started murdering people and demanding that his new favourite, Christine, be given lead roles. The witches embark on a bit of detecting and discover that there’s more to the story than everyone thinks.
There’s nothing spooky about Maskerade; it’s a straight up comedy, and excellent for laughs. But if you know anything about Sir Terry, then you will know that there will be plenty of ruminating on the nature of the beast, so if that’s your thing then you are in luck.
5. Frankenstein in Baghdad – Ahmed Saadawi
We’re back to Frankenstein, in case that wasn’t obvious, for the last installment on the list. Frankenstein in Baghdad is a post-US invasion of Iraq novel, re-telling the classic tale in a surreal and unearthly way.
Hadi Al-Attag collects body parts of bomb victims with the intention of giving them burials. But firstly he puts the parts together to create Whatsitsname. When the spirit of another victim enters Whatshisname and brings him to life, he starts out on a rampage of revenge killings, targeting those responsible for the deaths of the victims.
Frankenstein in Baghdad won the International Prize for Arabic Fiction back in 2014, and if you like your monster novels to have a heavy dose of cynicism and dwelling on the pointlessness of war, then this one is probably for you.
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