Monday, June 25, 2012


Such Wicked Intent (Apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein, #2) - Kenneth Oppel
Genre: YA historical fantasy/gothic horror
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Source: ALA Midwinter
Recommended for: High school & up

Release date: August 21, 2012

When does obsession become madness? Tragedy has forced sixteen-year-old Victor Frankenstein to swear off alchemy forever. He burns the Dark Library. He vows he will never dabble in the dark sciences again ? just as he vows he will no longer covet Elizabeth, his brother's betrothed. If only these things were not so tempting. When he and Elizabeth discover a portal into the spirit world, they cannot resist. Together with Victor's twin, Konrad, and their friend Henry, the four venture into a place of infinite possibilities where power and passion reign. But as they search for the knowledge to raise the dead, they unknowingly unlock a darkness from which they may never return.

This review was designed to be spoiler-free; however, spoilers from the first book might be revealed...
Such Wicked Intent was one of the ARCs I was fortunate to get at ALA Midwinter, and after being completely captivated by This Dark Endeavor, I had to know what was going to happen next.

This second installment in the Apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein picks up almost immediately where Endeavor left off. If you've read that novel, you know what I'm talking about. And while Oppel's writing style was just as strong, I'm not sure the story captivated me as much. The main area of study in This Dark Endeavor was alchemy (I don't think that's a spoiler), and Victor tried to use alchemical means to save his brother's life. Now the area of study has shifted to what I can only think to call paranormal mysticism - spirit boards and attempts to reach "the great beyond" or whatever. And whenever one encounters spirits, one also encounters commentary about life after death and so forth. That's one of the things I don't like to see even in a fictional novel, because even in a fictional story, I can't help but think that any type of spirit world (and all its rules and workings) is just bass-ackwards. As a result, I was never as engrossed in the story as I was with This Dark Endeavor, mainly because in SWI I spent a great deal of my reading experience being confused, highly skeptical, or just downright uncomfortable.
The characters weren't as likeable as I remembered, either. I mentioned Victor's megalomaniac personality and his intense need for approval dueling with his sensitive, well intentioned and sometimes compassionate nature. Those were the qualities that endeared me to him. But here, Victor was mainly just a bully and a narcissist who sauntered through the novel getting his way by forcing his will on everyone else. Likewise, Elizabeth wasn't near as likeable as in the first installment. Between perfect Konrad and brooding Victor, Elizabeth was presented as the voice of reason - she was spiritual to their scientific, level-headed to their impulsive. But in this installment, Elizabeth took on an obsessive and borderline crazy personality. I'm serious - even Bellatrix Lestrange would think Elizabeth was one weird chick.
But even for all its shortcomings (and I'm being honest - that's what they were), Such Wicked Intent's saving grace was in its commentary. I've said before in reviews that what gets me going is not so much the content in a book, but the message behind the content, or the approving or disapproving way in which it's portrayed. What made SWI so brilliant was the feeling of watching an impending trainwreck in slow-motion. Any reader who knows more than a little about Frankenstein ultimately knows what grand finale we're moving towards. And as bummed out as I was that Victor lost a lot of his likeability with me, I loved seeing the intensity give way to madness. I may not necessarily like Victor any more, but I still understand him.


The previous book in the series, This Dark Endeavor, will be one of the Texas Lone Star books for the 2012-2013 year. Good choice, TX librarians! 

Saturday, June 9, 2012

REVIEW - Deadweather & Sunrise (Chronicles of Egg)

Source: ALA Midwinter
# of pages: 295 (ARC)
Recommended for: 11 & up

Deadweather and Sunrise, the first installment in the new "Chronicles of Egg" series, is exactly the kind of book I had been desperate to read: exciting and action-packed, witty, heartfelt, and rather sophisticated. After being disappointed and underwhelmed by novels in the older, "teen fiction," I decided to go back to the younger end of the YA spectrum (a la Artemis Fowl, Percy Jackson and the like). The book reminded me of what I consider to be the "Golden Age" of Young Adult fiction, from 2001-2008, a time in which similarly well-written, exciting and authentic novels were being published. I think that author Geoff Rodkey really has a winner with this one, and I definitely think he's in the same company as Eoin Colfer, Michael Scott, Jonathan Stroud and Rick Riordan as far as style. D&S is also a prime example of why I wish there was a better term for novels that are marketed to the younger-than-teenagers crowd - "middle grade" doesn't seem to cut it. It's been my experience that a lot of readers pass over such books because of a misconception that they're somehow "juvenile," and in fact, lately I've gotten the impression that when it comes to publishers and [adult] readers, the "middle grade" label has a sort of stepchild status. I have to say, D&S is one of the most original, authentic and well-written BOOKS that I've read in months. Even though I get why Putnam labeled it grades 3-5 for marketing reasons, I would definitely categorize this novel as perfect for the middle school/preteen crowd and beyond. In my opinion, this novel is too mature to warrant an elementary grade leveling.
The novel centers around the young Egbert (called "Egg"), who lives a thankless life on his quasi-negligent father's ugly fruit plantation on the pitiful island of Deadweather (which reminded me of Houston in the summer). By chance, Egg winds up on the beautiful but treacherous island of Sunrise, where he draws the attention of a ruthless tycoon, meets and becomes infatuated with said tycoon's daughter (a delightful character with a not-so-delightful name of "Millicent"), is wrongly accused of murder (it's a bit complicated) and soon finds himself caught up in the dangerous world of rival pirate gangs. I appreciated that the pirates in question weren't portrayed as harmless, goofy caricatures (like that silly stop-motion flick The Pirates or that even sillier live-action flick, Hook) but as actually mad, bad, and dangerous to know. Even the pirates of Pirates of the Caribbean were more mild than the ones presented here. And I liked that. Like I said, D&S had a sort of sophistication to it that I don't see in a lot of novels nowadays. This wasn't just an "oh-how-cute" book. I found myself absolutely absorbed in the story and felt a connection to the main characters. Also, there were several times throughout the novel when Rodkey completely had me guessing what would happen next. After the slew of predictable and formulaic teen-fiction novels I'd read recently, that was a welcome change.
What I want prospective readers to know about Deadweather and Sunrise is how fun and authentic it is. Please don't let the illustrated cover design fool you - this book has way more going for it than you may assume. I don't think it's premature in the least to say that the "Chronicles of Egg" looks to be one of the most promising new series I've seen in the last 2-3 years. Like I said, D&S has a very authentic feel to it, but it also has a sophistication and a sort of maturity to it that I can't quite describe. There were several times when I was absolutely nervous for the characters and the situation they were in. And I think that's the mark of a truly gifted author: someone who's able to get the reader to really feel for the characters and what's going on in the story. They also skillfully employ allusions and innuendos in order to create an emotional reaction, rather than pander to the audience by resorting to edgy or TMI scenarios. Hats off to Geoff Rodkey!
I have no idea how I'm going to quell the need for the next installment! What I do know is that I've found a real winner with Deadweather and Sunrise, and I will definitely be recommending this novel to my students.


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