Monstrous Design is the second book in the Battalion of the Dead trilogy so there may be vague spoilers for the first book, Dangerous Remedy, in this review.
Camille and Al are in London, searching for James and Olympe, while Ada and Guile are still in Paris, tasked with spying on royalist Duc de l’Aubespine and figuring out what his plans are and putting a stop to them. With the Battalion of the Dead spread thin, they will have to rely on each other more than ever, especially as there’s a new threat in Britain.
While there was Frankenstein elements in the first book, Monstrous Design goes full steam ahead with those ideas and with it becomes quite horrifying at times as the theoretical becomes reality. The blending of eighteenth-century science with fantastical elements is still really interesting and as Ada gets more involved with experiments, you see more of how she’s chafing against what’s deemed as proper for a girl of her standing when all she wants to do is learn and understand.
This isn’t a fault of the book but it’s something I’ve noticed as this is the third YA book I’ve read so far this year when the rest of my reading has been adult. The teenage characters really feel like teenagers – which is good! They all often feel like maudlin teens or out of their depth and having big feelings about things, which also makes the moments when they’re honest about their feelings all the more impactful.
In relation to this, I like how these teenage characters parents have a big impact on them. It’s easy to just have absent or dead parents in YA to allow the characters to do what they wish, and there are a few dead parents thanks to the revolution, but the parents have clearly shaped their children – for good or for bad. Ada’s relationship with her father is one that gets more focus in Monstrous Design as he feels he’s trying to protect her and set her up with the life a young woman needs aka a husband and own home to look after, and doesn’t take into consideration what Ada desires from life. James’ relationship with his father is frustrating at times but also understandable as he wants his father’s approval and praise and will do anything to get it, even if it means putting himself and others in difficult positions.
Having the Battalion split up and two storylines running concurrently means there’s a lot of twists and conspiracies in two different countries. I didn’t find one group of characters more interesting than the other which was good as sometimes there isn’t that balance. I did worry the Paris gang wasn’t going to be doing much to drive the plot forward but was happy to be proven wrong about that and how everything comes together was really well done.
Monstrous Design isn’t quite as action-packed as Dangerous Remedy but there’s still a lot of scheming and peril and there’s still a dry wit which is mostly thanks to Al. It’s still a fast-paced and engaging read and how it combines the politics of the time with fantastical elements is really well done and interesting. 4/5.