Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Guest Review - This Dark Endeavour

Today's regular Tuesday review was not written by me. Instead, I've got something special. I have a guest review. :) I asked on Twitter if anyone was willing to review a book by a Canadian author as an early tie-in to the blog event starting on the 1st, and after a couple of retweets I found a volunteer in writer and author Gabrielle Prendergast. Her middle grade novel Wicket Season just came out in March, and Audacious comes out in the fall of 2013. You can find her on Twitter or at her website.

Now, Gabrielle picked the book, the only requirement I gave her was it had to be written by a Canadian author. I find it a bit funny that she's reviewed a book that I planned to review for the blog event. I'm wondering if I should pick a different book, or if I should write up my own review and hope that compared to hers it isn't lacking. Whatever happens, I hope you all enjoy this guest review, and thanks so much to Gabrielle for taking the time to write it. :)


Let me start by saying that Kenneth Oppel has some pretty big shoes to fill in taking on Mary Shelley’s FRANKENSTEIN as inspiration for this prequel about the teenage years of Victor Frankenstein. The main challenge here, from a character point of view at least is that many readers will be well aware of the horrific things that this teenage Frankenstein does as an older adult. So Oppel needed to show us the beginnings of the passion that would drive the mad scientist to his unholy experiments and the monstrous creature they spawned.

A lesser writer might have told a simple tale that took a bad turn towards the end, turning a likeable hero’s heart to stone as an explanation for the dark places we know the hero to be headed. Oppel is not a lesser writer. He has created a protagonist both irresistible and hard to love, and entirely believable as someone who would later become the famous Dr. Frankenstein.  He is a character who struggles with ego and devotion, love and jealously, ambition and fear. He feels authentically teenaged too, perhaps a little too teenaged, but this is one of the challenges of writing about young people in historical times. Oppel has wisely chosen to make his teenage-hood feel contemporary. This brings the tale out of the stuffy historical realm and makes it feel fresh for a 21st century audience.

Here’s the blurb from Goodreads: Victor and Konrad are the twin brothers Frankenstein. They are nearly inseparable. Growing up, their lives are filled with imaginary adventures...until the day their adventures turn all too real. They stumble upon The Dark Library, and secret books of alchemy and ancient remedies are discovered. Father forbids that they ever enter the room again, but this only peaks Victor's curiosity more. When Konrad falls gravely ill, Victor is not be satisfied with the various doctors his parents have called in to help. He is drawn back to The Dark Library where he uncovers an ancient formula for the Elixir of Life. Elizabeth, Henry, and Victor immediately set out to find assistance in a man who was once known for his alchemical works to help create the formula. Determination and the unthinkable outcome of losing his brother spur Victor on in the quest for the three ingredients that will save Konrad's life. After scaling the highest trees in the Strumwald, diving into the deepest lake caves, and sacrificing one’s own body part, the three fearless friends risk their lives to save another.

If I had a criticism of this fine book I would say that it feels a bit episodic. There are several tasks Victor must complete and each one feels a bit tidy and self-contained, as though it is not part of a larger whole. Part of the problem might be that very few chapters end on a cliffhanger. Reading almost nothing but YA I’m used to cliffhanger chapter endings now, so these tidy chapter endings felt jarring to me, a took me out of the story.

Apart from this, I really enjoyed this book, and breezed through over three leisurely days. The writing in this is very faithful and appropriate for the source material, without ever feeling stuffy or pretentious. It managed to give a strong flavor of the gothic period without being so heavy that young readers will struggle.

I’ve long been a fan of Kenneth Oppel, and had this book on my TBR for ages. I wasn’t at all disappointed. Like most YA books this one ends in a way that would suggest a sequel and I for one, am looking forward to it.

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