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This Dark Endeavour: The Apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein

by Kenneth Oppel

The movie rights to Kenneth Oppel’s latest novel have already been sold to the producers of the Twilight series. No surprise there. This Dark Endeavour has all the elements – a love triangle, the supernatural, a touch of animal lust – that made the Stephenie Meyer franchise such a hit.

It also has depth and intelligence. Set in 18th-century Geneva, the story revolves around 16-year-old twins Victor and Konrad Frankenstein and their distant cousin, Elizabeth, who has lived with the Frankenstein family in their ancestral castle since she was a child. The three discover a secret library full of books on alchemy, including one that promises to produce an “Elixir of Life.” When Konrad falls gravely ill, Victor, against his father’s instructions, sets out with Elizabeth to find the ingredients for the elixir.

Along for the ride is family friend Henry Clerval (whose ultimate fate will be known to those who have read Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein). His role here is limited, but since two more books are planned, it’s a sure bet we’ll be seeing more of him.

It takes a while to get used to the prose, which faintly echoes the style of  Shelley’s 19th-century novel. At first, it feels rather stilted, but once the adventure gets going, we are quickly caught up in Victor’s quest for the three ingredients, his growing lust for Elizabeth, and his jealousy over her preference for the “good” twin, Konrad.

Most engaging of all is Oppel’s choice of narrator. Victor’s seething passions and mixed motives – coupled with his clear-eyed assessment of them – make him by far the most complex and, oddly, sympathetic character Oppel has created (at least, among those that are human). Kind, sensible Konrad seems positively pale by comparison. Team Victor, start your engines.