Michelle Isenhoff's Reviews > This Dark Endeavor

This Dark Endeavor by Kenneth Oppel
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Oct 20, 2012

really liked it

Have you ever read Frankenstein? There have been so many film adaptations that Frankenstein has become part of American pop culture, but the original book is actually considered classic literature. Written by Mary Shelley, the wife of well-known Romantic poet Percy Shelley, it was originally published in 1818 and has been popular with readers ever since. It tells the story of Victor Frankenstein who creates a live creature from the bits and pieces of dead criminals and then is horrified by what he has done.

I have read the novel a time or two, so I was curious when my librarian friend recommended this new YA series which is a prequel to the original novel. It’s the story of young Victor and how he comes to be the mad scientist who seeks to overcome death. I loved it!

Book one was very intriguing. It has the same dark Victorian feel to it as the original. It also establishes the main characters of Victor and his adopted sister Elizabeth very well. Victor starts as a normal fifteen-year-old boy, but when his twin brother Konrad grows ill with a malady that baffles the doctors, Victor begins to change. He discovers a library of old alchemy books and grows intrigued with the dark craft. And as Konrad’s health continues to decline, we see Victor take risks, challenge authority, and grow more violent, more brooding, and more power-hungry. Then in one of the old alchemy books, he discovers the Elixir of Life. Should he pursue it to save his brother? Yes, he decides, at all costs. “I would have the power to bring him back from the dead,” he tells himself. Then, even more revealing, he wonders,“What else might I have the power to do?”

To complicate matters, Victor finds out Konrad and Elizabeth, who is actually a distant cousin, have fallen in love—at the same time he is discovering Elizabeth’s beauty and charms for himself. But Victor also sees the wildness, the daring, the fire of Elizabeth’s personality and thinks she’s really much better suited to him. He also realizes that if Konrad were to die, he would “get the girl.” Elizabeth and Victor are extremely complex, well-written characters. Coupled with the love triangle and life-and-death nature of the conflict, I couldn’t put this one down.

This Dark Endeavor also introduces the science vs. religion debate that has been raging since about this time period. I really like how it’s done. Victor has adopted his parent’s atheism, but Elizabeth, who was rescued from a nunnery, has a strong faith in God. Both views are strongly represented, and that drives the conflict even deeper. It gives it a powerful sense of historical setting as well.

I love the way this series has the same feel as the original. It’s a perfect intro to the classic, and I highly recommend it. Language is clean beside two mild profanities, and the sexual awareness between teenagers is also very appropriately done and kept under wraps. Alchemy did involve spirituality, but this book has no unsettling occultic practices, only the working of mysterious recipes. I can’t wait to get my hands on book two (got it already!) then I’m going to reread my copy of Frankenstein.

I’d advise a high school reading age of 14+.
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