Saturday, December 10, 2011

This Dark Endeavor: The Apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein by Kenneth Oppel

You probably know Mary Shelley's classic Gothic horror, Frankenstein. Mad scientist creates monster, monster kills a bunch of people. And of course, we are left with the question -- just who is the monster in the story? I imagine that is one of the questions Kenneth Oppel asked when he started to write This Dark Endeavor, the first book in a new series exploring just what set young Victor Frankenstein on the descent into darkness.

It is summer in Geneva and it seems that 16 year old Victor Frankenstein, his twin brother Konrad, their cousin Elizabeth and their good friend Henry have nothing more exciting on the horizon than boating on Lake Geneva, riding through the countryside surrounding Château Frankenstein and putting on plays that Henry writes for the group. Then Konrad falls deathly ill. No doctor can help him. So Victor, Elizabeth and Henry, with help from mad alchemist and an old book they found in the château's Biblioteka Obscura, set out to find and make the Elixir of Life and cure Konrad. Of course, getting mixed up in alchemy, well, you know it won't end well.

I did not particularly like Victor as a character, but the best thing about Kenneth Oppel's writing is that he gets the details just right. He builds Victor into a complex and interesting character, and I even though I didn't like him and I knew how his story would end, I still found a lot in Victor with which I could sympathize. I had to keep reading, knowing tragedy was coming. But Oppel made me believe and hope that Victor could turn his story around.

I loved Frankenstein. I loved wrestling with the complex themes, but it left me wanting more, and This Dark Endeavor is an excellent companion to Shelley's classic AND an excellent story in its own right. I can't wait for the sequel.


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