This Dark Endeavor

This Dark Endeavor by Kenneth Oppel

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“I’m imbued with high hopes and lofty ambitious.  And if I can’t travel between planets–”
“Always good to have a back-up plan,” Henry interjected.
“–then I will 
create something, some great work that will be useful and marvelous to all humanity… In any event, I will be remembered forever.”

Victor Frankenstein, his brother Konrad, and their friends Elizabeth and Henry are intrigued when they discover a secret passage to a hidden alchemy laboratory in their ancient chateau, but they are forbidden from entering it again.  When Konrad becomes deathly ill, however, Victor convinces his friends to try to create the Elixir of Life in order to heal him.  As they pursue each of the ingredients, they find themselves in dangerous predicaments and fantastic adventures, risking life and limb to save their closest friend.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a big fan of re-imaginings of classic stories, and this one definitely piqued my interest as a prequel to Mary Shelley’s classic Frankenstein.  One thing I particularly appreciated about this book was that the author did not make Victor a particularly likable guy, but instead gave him flaws and shortcomings such as jealousy, pride, overzealous ambition, and a certain deceitfulness that makes it believable that this would be the same Dr. Frankenstein who would later steal cadavers to create a scientific monster.  I loved the “hidden” allusions to the classic, and thought Victor was an interesting character to read about, knowing he’d go to lengths no one else would.  I also liked the other characters — though Elizabeth was a bit of a typical YA damsel-too-progressive-and-modern-to-admit-being-in-distress, Henry the obvious comic relief, and Konrad was the typical too-perfect-to-be-real YA heroic type.

Though I’ll normally complain about the YA love triangles, this one escapes my ire by its interesting perspective — instead of being the one fawned over by everyone and forced to choose between two suitors, Victor is the rejected one, which fuels his sibling rivalry, and his desire to win Elizabeth over motivates many of his actions.  It serves a purpose in the plot aside from just adding romance.

A few things that did bug me, though… the language seemed a bit off, particularly the lack of contractions.  The dialogue seemed like some sort of melded mesh of modern and period words and phrases, and there were certain lines I had to re-read to understand what was being said.  The other thing that won an eye-roll from me was the “progressiveness” of the family.  I could understand Elizabeth wanting to be a writer and being okay wearing pants on their adventures, but the line was definitely crossed with the family making meals for their servants once a week, going from “progressive” to simply unrealistic and silly.  Why even have servants then, if you’re going to feel guilty about letting them doing their jobs?

Heads up:  There are some rather gory parts of this book; not for the weak-stomached!

Overall:  A YA adventure exploring the young Victor Frankenstein, his first interests in science, and the warped mind that led him to Shelley’s classic.



About WNK

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