A sixteen-year-old Victor Frankenstein spends his privileged life being home-schooled with his twin brother Konrad and cousin Elizabeth. Often accompanied by their family friend Henry, the foursome spend their days playing and exploring around the Frankenstein estate when not learning from their father. When Konrad suddenly falls seriously ill, the remaining three companions stumble upon an old library full of strange languages and recipes. They are convinced that if they manage to figure out how to concoct the Elixir of Life, it will save their friend. The trio must race against time and danger to gather the only 3 ingredients required, before it’s too late for Konrad.
This book has so much of what I love that I’m kicking myself for how long it took me to get to it. A touch of alchemy with a dash of action and adventure, this book was reminiscent of Harry Potter if Harry & the gang were a rebellious trouble-making bunch. (Well, I guess that can be debatable…) There were so many moments in This Dark Endeavour that brought back great memories of the J.K. Rowling series, from the 2-guys, 1 girl dynamic to the strange creatures and alchemy “magic” that are encountered. There is that same sense of peril & mystery-solving in a more-than-meets-the-eye kind of world.
The depiction of the brother dynamic was also really well executed. The love/hate relationship that Victor and Konrad have with each other feels so real. Whether it’s competing with one another to intense jealousy to unrequited brotherly love, anyone with a sibling, let alone a twin, can attest to having at least some of those emotions about each other at some point. I felt this sibling love/rivalry that Oppel described was so well played where siblings can be angry and fight about anything but as soon as something jeopardizes that, blood always comes first. Another major topic of This Dark Endeavour was the debate between science vs faith, which I likened to the long-running theme on Lost. With Victor’s desire to find a solution rooted in alchemy to cure his brother, Elizabeth was equally as passionate in praying for Konrad’s health at mass. Oppel lays out both arguments in a fair manner, not necessarily leaning towards one way or the other which allows the reader to take from it what they will. Rather than make a potentially controversial declaration that one was more correct than the other, Oppel shows the highs and lows of both sides.
Once again, drawing from another literary source comparison, I loved that this was a backstory to a pre-existing, well-known tale. I thought of Gregory Maguire’s Wicked, where everyone thinks they know the story of the Wicked Witch of the West, but Maguire illustrates so much more depth and history to Elphaba. Oppel achieves the same effect with this book, giving new life and backstory to the man who eventually creates Frankenstein’s monster. A fantastic beginning to an edge-of-your-seat series that will leave readers gasping with shock and crying out in surprise.