Friday, October 2, 2015

The Quest of Frankenstein (Frank Schildiner, Black Coat Press 2015)

One of my big failings is that, for however well I use the English language, other languages are beyond me.  No matter how hard I work at it, I can never learn more than just a few words or phrases in languages other than the one I was raised speaking.  My sister got the good language genes - she picks up languages like they're nothing.  But for me, it's a futile struggle.  I mention this, because one of the great finds in adventure literature that I've come across but cannot access myself because of the language barrier, is Jean-Claude Carrière's Frankenstein.  This is not like Borges' "Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote," but rather a series of novels, written in French, detailing further adventures of the Frankenstein Monster - who in this version, is truly monstrous, a razor-toothed devil intent on exterminating the entirety of the human race.  To the best of my knowledge, these novels have never been translated into English.  I know Carrière's Frankenstein solely through his influence on others.  Frank Schildiner's new novel, The Quest of Frankenstein, is a perfect example of my vicarious consumption of this fascinating take on the patchwork creature.

In 1914, the Frankenstein Monster, who has taken the name Gouroull, is having a marvelous vacation in France, gleefully slaughtering soldiers on both sides of No Man's Land - snapping necks between his fingers, tearing off heads, ripping out throats with his teeth.  The sickly-sweet smell of, not death, but undeath leads him to a hospital far behind the lines, where an energetic, mousy young doctor is eagerly testing a serum of his devising...yes, Gouroull meets Herbert West, who's ecstatic to be meeting the monster; he'd studied Victor Frankenstein's work while devising his own attempts at reanimation, and when Gouroull demands that West make him a mate, the Re-Animator is eager to comply.  He has a copy of Frankenstein's notes, and from it provides Gouroull with a list of alchemical items needed to effect a successful creation.

From here, we follow Gouroull on not one, but technically two quests: First, he wanders Europe collecting the materials West needs, an expedition that puts him in conflict with a number of monsters drawn from a spectrum of horror pop-culture; a colony of Deep Ones gets invaded, a vampire conclave (attended by Barnabas and Quentin Collins, the Master from Buffy, and Hong Kong's Mr. Vampire, among others), etc.  Secondly, he needs the skeleton of a powerfully-evil woman as a frame to build his bride on, and this introduces him to some of the most deliciously evil women in fiction, from Princess Tera (from one of my favorite Hammer productions, BLOOD FROM THE MUMMY'S TOMB, where she is portrayed by goddess Valerie Leon) to Nakari, the she-fiend brought low by Solomon Kane in Robert E. Howard's "The Moon of Skulls."

The Quest of Frankenstein is a fun monster rally of the classic sort, and a light and quick read.  When both Rondo Hatton's iconic Creeper and the Blind Dead showed up, I knew Frank Schildiner was a kindred spirit (or had somehow snuck a peek at my DVD collection), and there are few I'd more readily trust with creating such a monster rally.

Gouroull is a more truly hateful and evil version of the Monster than we're usually treated to, with sympathetic versions having become the norm as of late.  Gouroull seeks nothing less than the complete extinction of life on Earth - to be the last conscious creature on the burned-out cinder of the planet.  To this end he seeks to breed an army of creatures like himself, and he will not tolerate other occult entities' attempts to include him in their own schemes, be they warlocks, vampires or worse still.

Schildiner is also not afraid to roam much further afield than the ordinary monster rally; one of the highest of a series of high points in the novel for me led Gouroull to an encounter with the last sad relic of the Norse Gods.  That's not an encounter I ever would have dreamed of, but Frank Schildiner not only dreamed it, he put it in print and gave it to the world.

He also gives us a Dracula who isn't afraid to revel in his power, isn't some maudlin prince seeking a lost love but a veritable Prince of Darkness to cower before, and that's no small thing.  As the author notes, Dracula is truly a protean figure, with as many meanings and interpretations as there are interpreters, and the one that appears here is one of my favorites.  A damn sight better than the naked, entrail-draped savage that appeared at the climax of Anno Dracula.

Order The Quest of Frankenstein direct from the publisher here.

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