Thursday, March 15, 2012


This Dark Endeavor - Kenneth Oppel
Genre: YA Historical Fiction/Gothic Horror
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
# of pages: 298 (hb)
Recommended for: High School & Beyond  

In this prequel to Mary Shelley's gothic classic, Frankenstein, sixteen-year-old Victor Frankenstein begins a dark journey that will change his life forever. Victor's twin, Konrad, has fallen ill, and no doctor can cure him. Unwilling to give up on his brother, Victor enlists his beautiful cousin Elizabeth and his best friend, Henry, on a treacherous search for the ingredients to create the forbidden Elixir of Life. Impossible odds, dangerous alchemy, and a bitter love triangle threaten their quest at every turn.Victor knows he must not fail. But his success depends on how far he is willing to push the boundaries of nature, science, and love ? and how much he is willing to sacrifice?

This Dark Endeavor is an incredible book! I don't know where Kenneth Oppel got the idea to write a prequel to Mary Shelley's Frankenstein starring a teenage version of the eponymous character, but what an ingenious idea!

Truth be told, I never had read Frankenstein in school. My class was on a different track and I had a teacher who made the famous declaration to our class that he'd rather teach 'that Dumas man' than teach Frankenstein. Basically, my knowledge of the source material has come from Kenneth Branagh's film version, and Mel Brooks.

Still, even I could recognize the level of detail, skill and panache that Kenneth Oppel put into this fascinating novel. And for those of you who did read Frankenstein, have you ever wondered what might have happened to make Victor Frankenstein the man who actually dared to create life? Here, it's simple: Victor has a brilliant, charismatic and practically perfect twin brother, Konrad. Light to his shadow, and all that. I think this may be the only major divergence between the real Frankenstein and this adaptation - I don't recall a twin character in the original novel, but then again, I never read the original. When Konrad falls ill with a rare condition, Victor takes it upon himself to find a cure, believing that practical science has failed. His course of study is the dark arts of alchemy - the first of many such introductions into dark and creepy arts. Joining him in his "studies" are his cousin, Elizabeth Lavenza (yes, *the* Elizabeth Lavenza and best friend Henry Clerval (and don't we know what fate eventually has in store for them!)
I loved the way Oppel chose to portray Victor. It must have been hard to try and make one of literature's most megalomaniac characters into a sympathetic boy, eager-to-please and desperate for attention. I actually liked the guy! It was easy to root for him in his endeavors (dark and twisty as they were) and I found myself even making excuses for him on several occasions. Even though you know, ultimately, that Victor Frankenstein is a completely doomed character, I still wanted him to succeed. Let me clarify that at this point in Victor's life, he's only interested in successfully making an Elixir of Life for his sick brother - not creating the Boris Karloff creature...
Hats off to Kenneth Oppel for making me care about a character I never thought I could admire. And I loved seeing Victor gradually become more and more twisted, more aggressive, more desperate, and *still* remain sympathetic. I guess I'm drawn to characters with delusions of grandeur who want to prove their worth. Those must be the characters that leave an impression on me. :)

This Dark Endeavor was simply unputdownable, and I rarely say that. My little ADD-self can put down the most thoroughly interesting of books, too, so that should say something to this novel's overwhelming power of intrigue. If you haven't yet, I highly recommend picking up this novel. It clocks in at slightly under 300 pages, so it would be a quick read. And like I said, it's practically unputdownable!
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