Life is, on the whole, delightful for Victor—despite that his kinder and more amicable brother is the favourite among the household. Victor’s not so good with people—in fact, they think him rather entitled and more than a little haughty. He is—but he also grapples with the issue of wanting to be as loved as his twin.
Especially since Elizabeth prefers Konrad, and Victor is slowly coming to understand that he loves her. When Konrad falls ill to a mysterious disease, Victor turns to the forbidden lore of the Dark Library to find a cure.
This could be a standard love triangle, but having the identical twins allows Oppel to explore the idea of balances—lights and shadows, goodness and darkness, science and religion, knowledge and faith. It asks question of how far we go for those we love and what we can rely on when we claim not to believe in anything.
This Dark Endeavour ticks a lot of the boxes I find interesting—alchemy, twins, quests, adventure, strong females, and a narrator who isn’t your typical lovable protagonist. The issue with reading something about an established literary character is that you can’t depend on a plot to “surprise” you—because you know the destination. What you’re reading for is the journey.
This is absolutely worth the trip. Oppel combines interesting characters who I came to care about with clean prose full of humor, passion, and danger. I felt for Victor—I cheered for him, despite that I knew it had to all go terribly wrong at some point. I loved Elizabeth and her strength and I didn’t find her behaviour to be anachronistic, because the other characters acknowledge that it’s unusual-for-the-time and “wild.”
I enjoyed the historical setting and felt like there was a sense of Geneva and the time period without it being overwhelming or too detailed in the descriptions. Everything played out in my mind like a movie, so I can see why the film rights have already sold to Summit Entertainment. We always need more adventure stories in the teen section, and I enjoyed the quest element of this one—it reminded me of playing an RPG (forget movie, this would be a great video game).
What really pulled me through the story, however, is Victor himself. In less capable hands, he could easily be a very unsympathetic narrator, but Oppel makes the young Frankenstein believable. Victor’s a fascinating character—someone who knows he’s flawed but still tries to do what he believes to be right. More importantly, he can convince us to go along with him.
That’s the real alchemy of Oppel’s tale, he’s taken a character whom many of us know the “fate” of and managed to give us this fleeting hope that things could possibly turn out differently. Even knowing they won’t, I still want to see that journey from where This Dark Endeavour ends to where Frankenstein begins.
This Dark Endeavour: The Apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein is available August 30th from HarperCollins Canada. Thank you to them for providing the ARC.