Victor may be brilliant, but it’s his twin brother, Konrad, who seems to have life figured out. Konrad is cheerful, athletic, and gets along with everyone, while Victor is passionate and stubborn — fitting in doesn’t come easily. There’s jealousy, to be sure, especially when their childhood companion seems to become more than just (distant) cousin Elizabeth to both brothers at the same time. Still, the boys love one another deeply, and the majority of their daily lives is lived in common.
When Konrad falls mysteriously and seriously ill, Victor is determined to do whatever is necessary to make him well. Dismissing the ineffectual methods of conventional doctors as a waste of time, Victor, his cousin, and their friend, Henry Clavel, turn to the books collected in a library hidden deep under the Frankensteins’ castle. Everything rational marks the books as untrustworthy, but the promised Elixir of Life appears to be Konrad’s only chance. The thing must be attempted, no matter what the cost.
Though I’m not generally a fan of the sort of dark, emotional atmosphere Oppel evokes here, to me it felt very much in line with what I remember of Shelley’s novel, even if the specific details didn’t quite line up with the original. I really enjoyed the questing and the complex relationships between the main characters — the fact that most of them had conflicting motivations in particular made the characters feel remarkably real. I think that This Dark Endeavor (and its sequel, Such Wicked Intent) would work especially well either as an introduction to Shelley’s novel, and as a follow up to the same. The novel stands on its own, but there’s so much potential to draw more from both Oppel and Shelley by reading each novel with the other in mind.
Find more reviews at Librarianaut and The Globe and Mail.
Find some great extras — a discussion guide, videos of the author talking about the book, and more — on Kenneth Oppel’s website.