Saturday, February 23, 2013

Review: This Dark Endeavor by Kenneth Oppel

This Dark Endeavor--Kenneth Oppel
August 2011 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
298 pages--Goodreads

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 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 Dark Endeavor is a prologue to
Frankenstein, but you don't need to have read the original novel to enjoy this book.  I enjoyed the references here and there, such as a street named Wollstonecraft Alley (Wollstonecraft was Mary Shelly's maiden name), but they don't trip you up if you haven't read Frankenstein.  The novel does a good job of explaining Victor's drive to uncover the secrets of the human body.  He both desperately needs to save his brother's life and revels in the glory that each of his alchemical successes give him.

Victor is moody and passionate to the point of being obsessive.  He is self absorbed, over dramatic, short sighted, and compulsive.  This is accurate to his character in the original novel, but it makes him very difficult to connect with .  Don't get me wrong; he is well written. I just don't like dark, brooding, Heathcliff-like characters.  I like Henry and Konrad, but they don't get much screen time.  Elizabeth is very different in this adaptation.  In the original, she is merely an angelic but passive moral force and a strangulation victim.  In this story she is feisty and brave and stands up to Victor's nonsense, making her a much more interesting character.     

There is a love triangle, but at least it isn't one of those wiffley-waffley I-like-Boy-1-no-I-like-Boy-2 oh-I-can't-make-up-my-mind things that drive me crazy.  I still don't like that everyone is in love with Elizabeth, but at least there is no waffling back and forth.

The book has a lot of exciting escapes and daring dos, but I wasn't terribly interested in them.  I don't know if my dislike of Victor got in the way or if I just wasn't in the right mood.  However, most readers will be interested in strangely intelligent lynxes, crazy huge vulture attacks, flooding caves, amputation, and giant man eating fish.  I think it will pull in some who don't normally read.  

I wish the book had gone into more detail about the alchemy.  It's always present, but always behind a screen.  Somehow Polidori mixes up the elixir, but we don't get the step-by-step process, which I think would be interesting.  

It was fine, a decent read, but not one that compels me to continue with the series.  And I can't help but include the super chilling but spoilery ending paragraphs.  
I'd tried to save him, but I had not been smart enough, or diligent enough.
I covered my face with my hands.
And I mad an icy promise to myself.
I promised that I would see my brother again--even if it meant unlocking every secret law of this earth, to bring him back.

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