Monday, May 20, 2013

Review: This Dark Endeavor by Kenneth Oppel

Review: This Dark Endeavor (The Apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein #1)
by Kenneth Oppel
298 pages
Simon and Schuster, 2011
Source: Scholastic Bookfair
Buy: Amazon -- BN -- Book Depository

Goodreads Description: 
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, Henry, and Victor immediately se 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 Konrads life. After scaling the highest trees in Sturmwald, diving into the deepest lake caves, and sacrificing one's own body part, the three fearless friends risk their lives to save another. 

My Review:

I’ve decided to be generous to this book. It wasn’t a bad read, but not ah-ah-mazing either. Of course, Frankenstein is one of my most favorite books. ever. So naturally I feel inclined to be a bit too critical of Oppel’s prequel.

This Dark Endeavor introduces an identical twin to Victor Frankenstein, Konrad. When Konrad becomes terminally ill, Victor becomes obsessed in creating the Elixir of Life. His intentions for the creation get confused – is his pursuit the noble intention of saving his brother’s life or Victor’s obsession with power. The characters and setting are the same and written with similar temperaments to the characters of Shelley’s Frankenstein.

The characters were fairly well developed. I especially loved the development of Elizabeth Lavenza. Her adolescent years were full of animal passion as well as delicate femininity. I do believe Shelley herself would agree with Oppel’s interpretation of Elizabeth. This feminist rendition of Elizabeth is very suiting to the Frankenstein saga. Konrad, being the more sociable, more patient, and smarter of the twin brothers, sets the stage for Victor’s dark brooding which is very evident throughout this book. I do wish Victor had been characterized more fully. The novel took Victor’s point of view, yet as a reader, I never felt a deep understanding of Victor. He seemed a very indecisive character. I wish he had been better developed into the manic Frankenstein of Shelley’s novels. And of course, I can’t forget about Henry Clerval – he was nearly the same character in adolescence as in adulthood.

The plot was intriguing, but never really gripping. It begins with a slightly boring introduction of characters – before any action happened. I wasn’t really interested in a group of rich teenagers with the spark of love and curiosity. That would just be redundant, and I wasn’t interested. The teens stumble into a secret passageway (yippee, its still redundant) which leads to a library full of alchemist’s books, which of course have been banned. None of this was surprising, yet set the stage quickly and effectively. It can be difficult to remember this book is meant for ages 12+, so for the intended audience, this was a good start to a familiar story for most (even those who haven’t read Shelley’s novel have a very basic understanding of the novel – lightning, mad scientist)

With Konrad sick, Victor, Elizabeth, and Henry set out to create the Elixir of Life and encounter the many seemingly impossible tasks to get the necessary ingredients. Their journey is filled with many great dangers and they make some miraculous escapes. Elizabeth even bites a vulture. What? I’ve never really wrapped my mind around that. Perhaps it is a bit too impossible for me. Also, they escape from a pitch-dark cave filled with water. How they saw the water rising or found the exit with burnt-out lanterns confounds me. These points of the story disengaged me from the plot. My suspension of belief was stretched a bit too far in this given narrative.

Despite a few rough spots in the plot and my disappointment with Victor Frankenstein’s character development I did enjoy this novel. One thing I loved was the relation of Konrad and Victor. Being a twin myself, I think Oppel was spot on. He really captured that sense of overwhelming love for one’s twin alongside that feeling of overwhelming jealousy and contempt. It’s a confusing and difficult emotion to master, but Oppel did it with ease. I found myself smirking at a few of Victor’s comments and I completely related to their relationship.

The action in the novel was well written for the intended audience as well. Plenty of dungeons, wild animals, and mystical dangers to excite younger readers. The ending may have been predictable, but the exact dangers the youths would encounter was not, which I enjoyed.

I give this book 3 out of 5 foxes. I highly recommend it for teen readers, boys may be especially fond of the action in this one. It is a quick read with a steady pace. The characters are suiting extensions Mary Shelley’s originals. 

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