Title: This Dark Endeavor: The Apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein
Author: Kenneth Oppel
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: August 23, 2011
From the Publisher (so I don’t accidentally give too much away in my synopsis!):
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 piques 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, Victor and their friend Henry 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 a body part, the three fearless friends risk their lives to save another.
I was interested in reading this book partially because of the hype. This first I’d ever heard of this title came in the form of an announcement that Summit Films had acquired the screen rights. You can read that here.
I also liked the cover (sorry, it’s a weakness). But you have to admit, it’s just kind of a cover just made to appeal to a bookstalker like me, with a keyhole to peep through and everything. And the plot also appealed to my bookstalking nature…a forbidden library! Yeah! This one had my name written all over it.
I’ve never been that into the Frankenstein story—it’s not one of my personal favorites. However, I finished This Dark Endeavor wanting to revisit Mary Shelley’s classic. I have a feeling many teens will finish this book and go on to read Frankenstein for the first time. Any book that encourages kids to read a classic is a good thing, but This Dark Endeavor is also good in its own right.
One of the things I really loved about This Dark Endeavor was the pacing. There is no lag in the middle. Action scene follows action scene, and the suspense in some of them is painful. Oppel hooks you from the opening scene and does not let go until the conclusion. Dark, claustrophobic caves! Giant, should-be-extinct aquatic creatures! Nightmarish scavengers! Preternaturally clever mammals! Secrets, plots, betrayals! Whew…
Victor and Konrad are both sympathetic characters. Victor’s motivations, given his personality and complex feelings for his brother, are believeable. Konrad is almost angelic in his goodness, generosity, and fair-mindedness, but Victor has plenty of flaws to balance Konrad out. Elizabeth, the distant cousin the boys’ age who was adopted into the family, is as fiery and strong-willed as you could want a heroine to be—and it’s believable that both Konrad and Victor would fall for her. Their parents are the kind of progressive thinkers that cook dinner for their servants once a week and stress the importance of an equal education for Elizabeth, despite the fact she is female. The reader gets enough of a glimpse into this loving, seemingly perfect family that we can appreciate how devastating it is for all of them when their beloved Konrad falls ill.
I can’t say much more about the plot without spoiling it. I will say I really did not like one scene due to what happened in it—but the scene was not gratuitous and part of the reason I was upset is because Oppel wrote it so skillfully. So I can’t fault him for it even if it did make me mad. It served the story.
Conclusion? I highly recommend this book for anyone who loves gothic stories, enjoys books like The Monstrumologist and its sequel, and for fans of Shelley’s Frankenstein. Die-hard fans may not approve of what Oppel has done with the story—as with any fans approaching a new take on something they feel strongly about—but I think they will find it compelling nonetheless.