Review of This Dark Endeavour by Kenneth Oppel
Victor Frankenstein begins a dark journey that will change his life forever. Victor’s twin, Konrad, has fallen ill, and no doctor is able to cure him. Unwilling to give up on his brother, Victor enlists his beautiful cousin Elizabeth and best friend Henry on a treacherous search for the ingredients to create the forbidden Elixir of Life. Impossible odds, dangerous alchemy and a bitter love triangle threaten their quest at every turn.
Victor knows he must not fail. But his success depends on how far he is willing to push the boundaries of nature, science, and love—and how much he is willing to sacrifice.
This Dark Endeavour is the second Kenneth Oppel book I’ve read. Airborne was the first, and it made me eager to read more.
This Dark Endeavour is different from Airborne, but it’s told with the same sharp, fast-paced writing style that make Oppel’s books addictive. Told in first person, by Victor Frankenstein, This Dark Endeavour is a fast-paced adventure with some horror. Some horror—but not enough. This is Frankenstein’s childhood, and there are a lot of cool references to what will come, but Oppel didn’t take full advantage of the horror element.
Maybe that wasn’t what his intent. The horror comes strongest through Victor’s character. And the characters are probably the strongest part of the book. Victor isn’t a typical hero. Sometimes you’re not sure if he’s a bad guy, or what he’ll do next. And the first person narration takes full advantage of that. Unreliable narrators are the best kind of narrators. The other characters are well developed, and established well for the sequel. Oppel hints at Victor’s obsession with pseudo-science, playing on Mary Shelly’s ideas, but also changing them to make things less predictable.
The story is a little thin and felt more middle-grade than young-adult. Not that that’s a bad thing. The quest for ingredients to make a healing elixir makes for a solid plot, but I didn’t think it was original enough to get a full five rating. But what the plot lacks, the pace and action make up—with plenty of both. The quest element ensures there is never a dull moment and the characters move from one gripping set piece to the next. The sharp description helps the pace too, and Oppel knows what needs describing and what can be left to the imagination. The atmosphere is gloomy and forbidding from the start and helps build some great tension.
The ‘twist’ at the end was expected, but it offered an exciting climax that moved to the next twist which I didn’t expect. Things are set up well for the sequel, even if I’m not all that sure where it will go.
The characters are the strongest element of this book, but it also offers plenty of action, tension and pace. The writing is sharp and addictive. The plot could have been stronger, but Victor’s character shifts helped keep things interesting. Maybe Oppel could have focused more on the horror, but this is still a strong gothic fantasy adventure.