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Sunday, October 23, 2011

This Dark Endeavour, written by Kenneth Oppel. Harper, 2011. $19.99 ages 12 and up

"I became a keeper of secrets. I did not tell Konrad or Elizabeth of Father's alchemy. I did not tell them of my resolve to pursue our adventure. What good would it do? It wouldn't change their minds. They were too busy being in love. If Konrad did not have the sense to obtain the elixir, I would have to do it for him."

I have never read Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, and never really even considered doing so....until now. Just as Shane Peacock's The Boy Sherlock  Holmes led me to look more closely at Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's famous detective, Kenneth Oppel has inspired my interest in the man who was first the young man of this, his newest novel. It intrigues me to think about the rigorous research and vast amount of reading that must be done to know a character so well that a story about his earlier life can be realistically imagined.

It is a story told in first person, relating Victor's relationships with his twin brother Konrad, his cousin Elizabeth and their good friend Henry. The first person voice gives it immediacy and a very personal perspective on events as they happen. The Frankenstein brothers live a charmed life, wanting nothing and free to explore their magnificent home and its environs. When they unexpectedly find a hidden library, they are set on a course that will have readers eagerly anticipating each new twist and turn. It is the Dark Library and within its walls, they find books of alchemy written by a strange group of writers.

Mr. Frankenstein does not want them there. He fears they will be enticed into believing some of its spells and philosophy:

"This is not knowledge," he said. "It is a corruption of knowledge. And those books are not to be read."

When Victor asks why the books are still there, his father explains:

"I keep them, dear, arrogant Victor, because they are artifacts of an ignorant, wicked past - and it is a good thing not to forget our past mistakes. To keep us humble. To keep us vigilant. You see, my boy?"

You know what happens. When Konrad falls ill and cannot be healed, Victor takes it upon himself to find a cure. Elizabeth and Henry are willing conspirators. The Elixir of Life is written in a language they cannot decipher and they must seek help from an old alchemist, Julius Polidori. It leads them to a embark on three adventures in pursuit of the ingredients needed for the concoction. Victor realizes during these dangerous undertakings that Konrad and Elizabeth have strong feelings for each other...jealousy rears its ugly head and Victor tries trickery to break them up.

Victor's obsession with gathering the ingredients needed to concoct the mixture leads to a fight for survival, a good deal of deceit and some gruesome scenes. Each character is well-drawn, the pacing leaves you breathless at times, and the emotional roller coaster that ends the book does not allow even a brief digression. The tone is dark and tragic...would you not expect that to be so?

Victor will let nothing stand in the way of finding the answers he seeks. We sympathize with his intense need to help his brother...the other half of himself. Yet, he also has that dark, brooding nature. He is unlike his personable, accomplished 'older' brother. Their relationship can be unnerving. Elizabeth is like each of the brothers...sweet, kind and religious while also wild at times, and daring. Henry is a loyal friend, providing a bit of comic relief when a smile is needed.

I love this book and could not put it down once I started reading it! I understand that it is the first of a planned trilogy and has been optioned for a movie...hopefully, it won't be long until we hear from Victor again.

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