cover image Outcasts: A Novel of Mary Shelley

Outcasts: A Novel of Mary Shelley

Sarah Stegall. Wings Press, $16.95 trade paper (272p) ISBN 978-1-60940-516-8

During the dreary summer of 1816, in a villa on Lake Geneva, Lord Byron challenged Mary Shelley; her husband, Percy; and John Polidori to each write a ghost story. In this reimagining, science fiction and mystery writer Stegall expands that history with the characters' warring passions playing out in the three tense days leading up to Byron's challenge. Stegall has done her research on these remarkable people, and much of the drama comes organically as she lets their opposing personalities and desires bounce off each other. Mary Shelley, only 18 at the time, is brave but still scared of the choices she's made. Percy Shelley is naive and privileged, for all his revolutionary talk of free love and equality. Polidori is ambitious, but constantly humiliated by his employer, Lord Byron. Byron is a beautifully complex monster: selfish, brittle, and deeply self-loathing. Claire, Mary's stepsister, is a tempestuous attention-seeker, and pregnant with Byron's son. Rather than dwelling on personal drama, Stegall folds philosophy into the narrative, taking meandering paths through subjects that were dear to the Romantics' hearts: nature, the fallibility of human beings, the soul, women's rights, and, later, ghosts and monsters. This novel is sure to please fans of literary history and historical novels, as well as anyone who likes monsters well-rounded. (May)