Get Gothic thrills in This Dark Endeavor: The Apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein

This Dark Endeavor: The Apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein, Book 1 by Kenneth Oppel; published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, New York, 2011; 298 pages.

Victor Frankenstein’s obsession with reanimation began long before the creation of his infamous monster.  In seventeenth century Geneva, the Frankenstein family lives a rather unconventional life.  On Sundays, the family makes dinner and waits on the household staff.  Twins Victor and Konrad are home schooled.  Under tragic circumstances, their cousin Elizabeth is brought to live with them; and their best friend, Henry, is often an overnight guest.  Myths and legends about medicine are dismissed by Mr. and Mrs. Frankenstein, in favor of science and fact.  The family’s ancestors were not always as practical.  On an adventure inside the family’s castle, the four teens discover a hidden passage to a dark library filled with books on alchemy and other mystical arts.  The significance of their discovery is revealed when Konrad becomes gravely ill.  When the most noted physician of the time cannot cure Konrad, Victor, Elizabeth and Henry use the information in the books on the dark arts to fashion a cure.  With help from an ostracized alchemist, Konrad’s cure seems inevitable.  However, nothing in the shadows of this haunting story is as it seems.

Oppel has undertaken the daunting task of writing a prequel to Mary Shelley’s classic Frankenstein.  Her story is one of only two books that I reread annually, so writing anything about the man and his monster would probably disappoint me.  I don’t know how he did it, but This Dark Endeavor is written in the style and Gothic spirit of the original.  I found myself wincing in grotesque horror at some descriptions and gasping wide-eyed at unexpected plot twists.  As I closed the back cover, I felt I had read Mary Shelley’s lost manuscript.

Even the production of the book mimicked a Gothic story.  The end pages are printed in an antique pattern and show damage from age and wear.  The use of keyholes to separate chapter sections reflects the cover art and ties the whole package together.

Thanks to the popularity of Steampunk, I think interest in this book will be huge.  I hope that teens who finish this are encouraged to pick up the original to finish the tragic story of Victor Frankenstein and his ego-maniacal obsession.

On the author’s website, resources from the book are available (http://www.kennethoppel.ca/pages/darkendeavor.shtml).  I was especially fond of viewing Victor Frankenstein’s sketchbook but the book trailer, author interview, and reading group guide were also very well done.

By the way, according to IMDb, a movie adaptation is in production and is expected in theaters in 2013.

5P      4Q     Grade Level: 8-12+

Cover Art: Dark and brooding is how I’d describe the cover.  We, perhaps as the adult Victor, peer from the dark side through a keyhole that shows the young Victor bathed in beautiful sunshine outdoors.  The font reflects the era appropriately.  Fans of steampunk will be interested in the art on this book.

From Reading List: The Way It Could Be (Science Fiction or Fantasy)

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