Pages: 366 (David Fickling Books, 2011)
Series: The Apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein
Read: 30/9/12 - 16/10/12
Status: Borrowed from the library
Synopsis: When his twin brother falls dangerously ill, Victor Frankenstein sets out to find the Elixir or Life. The quest is fraught with danger, not least because of Victor's arrogance and a bitter love triangle that threatens to derail the entire endeavour.
Review: This Dark Endeavour is a prequel to the Frankenstein story, but you don't need to have read Frankenstein for it to make sense. It works just as well as a standalone novel (though it is the start of a series) and prior knowledge of Mary Shelley's work isn't essential. I have read Frankenstein, but it was ages ago so my memory of it is sketchy; though there were bits I remembered that helped me with this book, there were some times when I thought "hang on, is that canon?" but this was my issue rather than the book's. There was foreshadowing of the original novel, and a few references that cheered my eighteenth-century literature student heart - Polidori lives on Wollstonekraft Avenue, yay! - but none of this is noticeable as part of something the reader might not understand.
As a book in it's own right, This Dark Endeavour stands up. It would work even without the Frankenstein connection, although that adds an extra dimension to Victor's actions. This Dark Endeavour is well plotted and the prose is good, without too many attempts at eighteenth-century language and without any modern slips. There are elements of genuine Gothic horror, and the Swiss setting gives even more opportunity for things like, I don't know, being stuck up a tall tree in a thunderstorm while being attacked by giant birds or almost being eaten by a giant cave-dwelling fish. It wouldn't be a quest if there wasn't some peril.
Victor himself is well-drawn and fits in with how I think of Victor Frankenstein, a.k.a. I want to punch him really hard in the face. I've felt that since reading Frankenstein and This Dark Endeavour just proves I'm right (which is nice). I really like that Kenneth Oppel doesn't shy away from making Victor an arrogant, presumptuous little git whose actions might break the laws of nature and cause all sorts of problems but who doesn't care about this as long as he's Right. That you don't stop reading even though the narrator is driving you mad is a sign of a good book.
Not that Victor is all bad (which is part of the reason why it works). He does genuinely care about his brother, and he has moments of complete honesty in which he recognises that his own motives aren't completely pure. That he also admits to seeing a cold-blooded way of dealing with the book's love triangle is something else in his favour (awful though it is), as I like that Kenneth Oppel took the story there and allowed his character to have those thoughts. It would have been unnatural (hoho) if he hadn't.
This Dark Endeavour works well as a book by itself, and I will definitely be reading the sequel - Such Wicked Intent - when it comes into the library. A prior knowledge of Frankenstein isn't necessary (and I think most people, even if they haven't read the book, know the gist of the story) but it does add a little extra depth/knowledge to the reading. Definitely recommended for fans of Gothic horror and flawed narrators.
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