This Dark Endeavor by Kenneth Oppel

This Dark Endeavor: The Apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein (Apprenticeship of Victor Frnkenstein)

(Description nicked from B&N.com.)

“Victor and Konrad are the twin brothers Frankenstein. They are nearly inseparable. Growing up, their lives are filled with imaginary adventures…until the day their adventures turn all too real.

They stumble upon The Dark Library, and secret books of alchemy and ancient remedies are discovered. Father forbids that they ever enter the room again, but this only peaks Victor’s curiosity more. When Konrad falls gravely ill, Victor is not satisfied with the various doctors his parents have called in to help. He is drawn back to The Dark Library where he uncovers an ancient formula for the Elixir of Life. Elizabeth, Henry, and Victor immediately set out to find assistance in a man who was once known for his alchemical works to help create the formula.

Determination and the unthinkable outcome of losing his brother spur Victor on in the quest for the three ingredients that will save Konrad’s life. After scaling the highest trees in the Strumwald, diving into the deepest lake caves, and sacrificing one’s own body part, the three fearless friends risk their lives to save another.”

Oppel has written a type of re-imagining that I don’t often see but really enjoy: taking a well-known classic and envisioning the events that led to the characters to where they are in the original novel.  In this case, the author has exploited the fact that Shelley provided a basic but solid backstory for Victor and merely adds a few elements that could plausibly have happened.  Giving Victor a twin and using that twin as the impetus for studying alchemy meshes perfectly with the “known” details of Victor’s life and upbringing.  Given that the original character also loses his mother to scarlet fever not long after Oppel’s series starts will likely provide further fodder for alchemical studies in future volumes.

The other neat thing about giving Victor a twin is the element of competition and jealousy that the author weaves into his personality.  Although supposedly alike in every way, Konrad is more personable than Victor and seems to be on track to be a “golden boy”.  He even gets the girl—Elizabeth Lavenza, their adopted cousin.  Oppel paints a fascinating portrait of a young man who loves his twin deeply but who also resents the fact that he’s apparently more beloved.  I enjoyed watching their interactions and seeing Victor fight his animosity.

The author has added in plenty of adventure and danger to sweeten the pot, as Victor and his companions explore caves, climb trees and fight massive birds to get the ingredients for the potion that they hope will save Konrad’s life.  The final ingredient, which involves a willing donation of bone marrow, is an unsettling scene to read, but in it, we see Victor’s warring desires play out: he pays the price not only for love of his brother, but for a twisted desire to be seen to love him enough to give of his own flesh.

In all the details that Shelley provided in her original, Oppel stays true to the Frankenstein tale in a way that makes it hard to put down.  I’m really looking forward to getting my hands on the sequel, Such Wicked Intent, and seeing where the author takes Victor and his budding talent for alchemy.  Humanizing a character usually portrayed as evil makes for a compelling read, and I certainly found much to enjoy in This Dark Endeavor.

This review appeared on Owlcat Mountain on January 15, 2013.

Series: The Apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein
ISBN: 9781442403161
Publisher: Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers
Page Count: 320
Publication Date: May 22, 2012
Acquired: Borrowed from the Yolo County Public Library, Davis branch
Author Website
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