April 3, 2014
This Dark Endeavor by Kenneth Oppel
This Dark Endeavor
by Kenneth Oppel
Simon and Schuester Books for Young Readers
Victor Frankenstein wasn’t always driven to re-animate the dead. True, he has always been the more impulsive of the Frankenstein twins. And, although both he and Konrad are proud, his sometimes takes a darker, more self-centered turn. The two are fencing, Victor finally getting the upper hand, when Konrad is struck down by a fever. Fortunately, their father is a magistrate in Geneva and they live a life of priveledge. Soon, doctors are visiting the home and Victor is confident that one of them will find a cure.
But as Victor and their cousin Elizabeth look on, the bleedings, tinctures and teas do nothing. Konrad grows weaker and thinner by the day.
Konrad convinces Elizabeth and their friend Peter that the only solution is to find the ingredients for the Elixir of Life, an alchemical potion sure to cure any illness.
When Father brings a noted scientist to their home, he allows Victor to look through his microscope where he sees the many things in human blood. Some are helpful but Konrad’s blood has turned on itself. The scientist is convinced that he can use a small amount of blood to make, perhaps not a cure, but something that will eliviate the symptoms at least for now.
The others are relieved when Konrad’s fever breaks but Victor is determined to finish the Elixir. What if Konrad has a relapse? Besides Victor will not be cheated of his opportunity to be the hero but being a true hero comes with at a hefty price.
Oppel spins a story that is part historic fiction but also a bit of dark fantasy. He combines the world of early chemistry and medical science with that of alchemy and folklore. In this imagined world we meet a young man who is driven both by curiosity but also the suspicion that no matter how alike he and his twim may seem, Konrad is smarter, more moral and simply a better man. He may see the good in people, but Victor sees what is wild and what is driven.
I’m not a huge fan of anti-heros and given his jealousy and dark imagination that is clearly what Victor is. Yet, anyone who has ever worked hard only to fail at proving themselves will identify with him. His drive to save his brother will definitely appeal to teen boys who also want to be heros and they will certainly identify with Victor’s anger at the many rules that seem to exist only to hold him back.