Saturday, April 14, 2012

Book Review: This Dark Endeavour by Kenneth Oppel

Title: This Dark Endeavour
Author: Kenneth Oppel
Publisher: Simon and Schuster
Release Date: Aug 23, 2011
Rating: 4/5

Cover Impressions: I love the dark feel of this cover.  The scratched keyhole and the black on black outfit are contrasted against the blue sky as Victor Frankenstein takes his first steps on the road toward his destiny.  On the back, as if scratched into the dark wood, is the line: "There is a passion in you that scares me".  Which perfectly sums up the conflicting feelings that Elizabeth and I share of Victor's character. 

The Gist:  Years before the events that were recorded in Mary Shelly's Frankenstein, Victor lived his days in peaceful playtime with his brother Konrad, cousin Elizabeth, and dear family friend Henry.  While exploring, they stumble upon a hidden Biblioteka Obscura: The Dark Library.  It is full of strange books condemned by both the church, and Victor's father.  When Konrad falls gravely ill, Victor decides to use these materials to find a cure and sends himself and his friends on a perilous journey into the heart of Alchemy.

Review: I haven't read any other Kenneth Oppel books (although I do stock some in my classroom library) but, when I read about a prequel to Frankenstein, I knew I had to get my hands on this one.  I love modern takes on classic novels, especially when they aren't trying to re-tell the same story but are using it as literary fodder for their own dark imagination.  I was particularly hoping for a book that would appeal to teen boys and I was not disappointed.  This Dark Endeavour is full of mystery and excitement.  It was one of those page-turning books where I found myself thinking "one more chapter and then I will go to bed" until I had  turned the last page and stayed up far past my bedtime. 

The characters are a little one dimensional, but enjoyable.  I cheered along as Elizabeth asserted herself and laughed at Henry's myriad of fears.  Konrad was just a perfect enough to dislike and I reveled in Victor's first, tentative steps into villainy.  It is interesting to watch the dichotomy between the boys and I was left wondering if this is a case of the "good" twin and the "evil" twin. 

Oppel's pacing is spot on.  There is absolutely no lag in the story and the excitement builds quickly.  There are many action scenes and they demand the readers attention in a way that I know appeals particularly to young boys.  In order to truly enjoy this novel, the reader does have to suspend disbelief in the fact that everything the characters need to acquire in their quest is within walking (or riding) distance and that some information comes a little too quickly and conveniently.  

While this book will not change your life, it will provide a few pleasant hours and, perhaps, the catalyst to explore the original Frankenstein further.  I am excited to place this novel in my classroom and into the hands of those boys who crave adventure stories.

Teaching/Parental Notes:
Age: 12 and up
Gender: Either
Sex: None
Violence:  Amputation of fingers, violent death to animals
Inappropriate Language: None
Substance Abuse:  None


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