Prior to reading This Dark Endeavor, my only knowledge of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein came from watching Frankenweenie and Young Frankenstein. I knew the bare minimum of the plot – a mad “scientist” creates a monster out of spare body parts and uses electricity to bring said monster to life with disastrous results – but that was it. I didn’t really have a desire to learn any more, either, and I never had any real interest in reading Shelley’s iconic work for myself.
All of that changed after I read This Dark Endeavor, a prequel to Frankenstein that shows Viktor Frankenstein taking the first steps on his path to knowledge and power. Even I, knowing as little as I did about the original story, was captivated by Kenneth Oppel’s teenage Frankenstein. Young Viktor is an incendiary combination of inquisitiveness, pride, jealousy, and brilliance, and it was fascinating to see the first sparks of wonder and desperation that would eventually set his world aflame.
Viktor Frankenstein is a memorable character if ever there was one. He’s dramatic, theatrical, and mercurial, with an excitable imagination and a hunger for adventure and renown. He loves his family and friends with all his heart, but darkness and jealously lurk beneath his surface. He simultaneously adores and envies his twin brother Konrad, who is Viktor’s dearest friend as well as his greatest rival.
When Konrad falls ill, Viktor determines to do whatever it takes to keep his brother alive, no matter the cost. Aided by his childhood companions Elizabeth and Henry, Viktor embarks on a dark quest for a cure, a quest that ignites Viktor’s curiosity and lays the groundwork for the events of Shelley’s novel.
This Dark Endeavor has a deliciously gothic feel that made me shiver and grin while reading it. Viktor and his accomplices discover secret passageways, explore hidden libraries housing forbidden tomes, and creep through dank cellars. There are portentous dreams, sleepwalking maidens, and beakers full of organs and fluids. The pages burst with alchemy, magic, and elixirs whose ingredients must be gathered in darkness. It’s not a frightening book, but it is an atmospheric one, and I enjoyed this very much.
Something else that I loved, though it may seem silly, was the precise, specific language in the book. How often does one get to read about characters who use words like “scoundrel,” “apparatus,” “ghoulish,” and “phantasmagorical?” Rather than coming across as tedious and contrived, Oppel’s diction feels authentic and right, and it pleased me greatly.
I may not have had any desire to read Frankenstein previously, but after finishing This Dark Endeavor the first thing I did was high-tail it to Google to search for anything about Frankenstein that I could get my hands on. I applaud Oppel for interesting me in Shelley’s classic at last and can’t wait to find out what I’ve been missing out on all these years.