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Summary: Victor Frankenstein is close to his twin Konrad, yet secretly envies his brother’s talents and good nature. When Konrad falls ill with a mysterious and dangerous sickness, Victor is willing to resort to ancient dark arts that his father has forbidden him to explore. Along with his friends Elizabeth and Henry, Victor’s search for the Elixir of Life will cause him to encounter deadly creatures, gloomy forests and caverns, and personal sacrifice. Despite this, the most frightening things Victor discover may be within himself.
Review: I picked up this book in the first place for two reasons: 1) because the author’s Airborn Trilogy are among my favorite books of all time (and will finally be a movie after all these years) and 2) because I read the original Frankenstein for class this semester and found it fascinating.
This Dark Endeavor is exactly what I’ve come to expect from Mr. Oppel’s previous books. It has a lot of suspenseful adventure along with great character exploration. While the scrapes that Victor and company get into are certainly hair-raising, it’s getting inside Victor’s head that is really what makes this book good (and disturbing). He’s not what you would call a very likeable narrator, but this is totally consistent with his personality in the Mary Shelley novel. Victor swings between jealousy towards Konrad and guilt over these feelings. He’s rather self-centered, and can’t resist the allure of the forbidden fruit of dark science. In Frankenstein, Victor has a curious lack of empathy and as well as a detachment from his emotions. I thought it was very interesting that throughout the novel, it seemed like Victor took cues from Konrad on how to feel about various things – even when it came to being in love.
Speaking of which, while Matt and Kate have a charming (if slightly rocky) romance in the Airborn books, Victor’s relationship with Elizabeth was…weirder. It’s kind of animalistic and even squicky, but this definitely fits with the eerie tone of the book. It’s different from their relationship in Frankenstein, in which Elizabeth is devoted and Victor aloof, but Oppel’s allowed to take some liberties. After all, Victor never mentioned having a twin brother…
Although I couldn’t put the book down, it really did creep me out. It’s the sort of thing you read with all the lights on. In fact, I even skimmed a few pages for the sake of wanting to be able to get to sleep that night. Especially towards the end, the story takes a turn straight to disturbing and depressing. Again, this is in line with the Gothic horror and tragedy of the 1818 novel.
In short: It looks like this will be a home run for Oppel, as there’s a sequel and a movie on the way. While it’s not something I’d be jumping up and down to read again anytime soon, This Dark Endeavor is definitely a well-thought-out and gripping novel. Before reading it, I’d recommend first picking up Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, and also make sure you’re in the mood for such a scary adventure.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars.
Something similar: The Hollow Kingdom by Claire B. Dunkle is another slightly chilling read with some unconventional romance. It’s set around the same time period as This Dark Endeavor, but involves more fantasy elements as well as a lot more humor. I also enjoyed the creepiness of the original Phantom of the Opera novel by Gaston Leroux.
Cover & Title: I love the title. It feels old-fashioned and suits the mood of the book. It’s also in a line of dialogue spoken by a character in the book. The keyhole design on the cover really grabs the eye.
Where I got the book: Shelves of the local library.