Saturday, 3 September 2011

Review: This Dark Endeavour by Kenneth Oppel

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 to be 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 Konrads 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.

This book was one of my most anticipated reads of 2011, to the point that I was terrified that it wouldn’t live up to the high expectations I had for it. I mean that cover, the blurb! And the pages in between more than live up to the high standard those two set.

Oppel has perfectly captured the arrogant tone of Victor as portrayed in the original Frankenstein. In fact he has perfectly captured everything – the tone, the language, the character so that the entire thing feels as though it could quite easily be a prequel to the original. Indeed it fleshes out the character of Victor so that I actually felt for him and cared about him – despite his arrogance – in a way that I never felt able to with the older Victor.

Oppel takes the original characters and backstory and inserts into them this idea of the twin brother Konrad, the perfect creature of good and kindness as the opposite of Victor in every way except physicality. This provides the perfect opportunity to explain Victors obsession with science, with alchemy and later resurrection. It allows him to have a greater depth and emotion, exploring the love and rivalry that exists between two siblings, and also the idea that he would do anything for his twin – even abominations against science and existence.

The writing is pitch perfect to mimic the original Frankenstein – it has the same gothic tones, precise voice and elegant language of the period, as well as a crushing sense of doomed inevitability that stalks every page, even when everything seems as though it might go well.
The outcome is obvious from the start – after all this plots the descent of a pampered boy in Geneva into the sort of experiments that would awaken the dead and return loved ones to him. But that certainty of where this is going doesn’t diminish the incredible journey it takes the reader on to get there. It treads the same fine line between reality and fantasy faultlessly and is an incredible epic adventure in search of knowledge, and the power of love in all its forms.

I cannot recommend this enough. It’s not essential to know the original Frankenstein although it does make an interesting comparison for those that have. However on its own it’s a brilliant young adult historical novel with a compelling story and a brilliantly flawed central character at its heart.

1 comment:

  1. Great Review! If I was not already reading this book I would be ready to get a copy based on your wonderful synopsis!