This Dark Endeavor: The Apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein by Kenneth Oppel is a believable prequel to Mary Shelley’s classic novel Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus. Victor Frankenstein and his twin brother, Konrad, live at Chateau Frankenstein with their loving parents and an adopted distant cousin, Elizabeth. Though Victor and Konrad are identical twins, their personalities are very different. Konrad is easy going, intelligent and charming, whereas Victor is reserved, arrogant and awkward. While exploring the Chateau’s hidden passages, Victor, Konrad, Elizabeth and their friend Henry stumble upon a secret library with a large collection of books on the dark arts. Their father warns them to stay away from this library. Meanwhile, Konrad suddenly falls ill with a mysterious blood disorder. Victor watches an expert doctor experiment with treatments that fail. Frustrated, Victor decides to take matters into his own hands and returns to the forbidden library to find a solution. The story is about Victor’s fixated entanglement with alchemy to find the Elixir of Life to save Konrad. Victor and his friends have to go through several dangerous quests to find three rare ingredients before this elixir can be concocted by a mysterious alchemist. There are betrayals along the way and a love triangle involving Victor, Konrad and their cousin Elizabeth.
The tone of this book is true to the original and that’s what makes this prequel convincing and enjoyable. Oppel cleverly creates the deathly ill twin which spurs Victor’s character to delve deeply and obsessively into alchemy. The characters are splendid and the contrast between the twins is great. This fast-paced, action-packed thriller will appeal to many readers. In our library system it is cataloged under Younger Teen. The sequel, Such Wicked Intent will be available August 2012.