No sooner had I finished This Dark Endeavour, that I jumped into the second book of this duology, hoping to carry on with the same creepy and tense horror atmosphere of the first one. Konrad is dead and Victor’s grief knows no bound. He considers himself as much as the alchemy he used partly responsible for his brother’s death. Deciding that he should have listened to his father from the get go, Victor takes it upon himself to empty the Dark Library and burn every book that occupied its shelves. Meanwhile, his father is having the passageway to the Dark Library filled so that the dark secrets may never been found again.
But nothing is so simple for the Frankenstein and two things threaten to change things for the family again: in the pile of ashes where books have been burned, Victor discovers a small red box containing tools that instructions told him could allow him to contact the dead. And how could Victor refuse such a chance, when he misses his brother so. And when his brother apparently responds with a demand to be raised from the dead, how is Victor not supposed to start looking into ways to bring the dead back to life.
As he delves into books and the secrets of their chateau, Victor is also drawn into the mystery of the dark tunnels discovered beneath the passage way to the Dark Library. There, old paintings of animals and darker things await him and the archaeologist his father has summoned to the estate to help unravel this new mystery.
When Victor finds a way to step out of his body and into the realm of the dead, he is convinced he can find a way to save his brother, who is there, safe and alone bar for one serving girl, both trapped within the chateau by dangerous white mist. There, Victor suddenly becomes able to learn in ways he has never managed to before and through the help of the dark butterflies that are the only other inhabitants of teh realm of the dead, read the carvings in the walls beneath of the castle.
And there Victor gains the knowledge he has been seeking: how to grow his brother a body so that his soul may be reattached to it.
This would have been absolutely fine, until Elizabeth, who is surprisingly insufferable in this book, decides that this growing mud baby (and yes, I mean this literally, a baby made of mud) needs not be left alone–as Victor insists it does–but instead needs all the mothering she can give. And worse of all? Henry is assisting her in this, grown more bold since the events of the first book, and desperate to catch her attention before she makes the final decision she is threatening with: to live for the nunnery.
Let me make one thing clear: I hate book babies. Babies are….well…kinda scary as far as I’m concerned and I really don’t like it when they certainly become such a central figure of a book I’m reading, let alone a YA book where Elizabeth seems to become a terrifying teenage mother with Henry at her side and Victor desperate to talk sense into her as he senses a darkness coming from the child.
I was fine with the concept of growing a body, if only had Elizabeth left it well alone and the book would have focused on something else than half creepy, half disturbing, ‘family’ moments with the child who is to become Konrad’s body. It took too much of the book, way too much and added nothing to the story, a lot of what the child serves (letting us know something is afoot with what Victor is attempting to do) could have been done in far chillier ways elsewhere in the book.
And the rest of the book does mainly nail the creepy, chilly atmosphere that works so well for this kind of story. Victor and his friends are being changed by a power that is beyond their understanding and Konrad is dreaming of escape from death, promised by his brother. And yes, some of Victor’s and Elisabeth’s bad sides and more visible than ever and even plot reasons cannot excuse every annoying incident, but overall, especially in Victor, the change brings something of urgency to the book.
Oppel nails the creepy and mystery until the end. And there, everything seems to unfold, much as I have seen happen so often in horror stories. It was a pity Oppel didn’t go all the way with his big monster at the end, if he wanted a monster. The descriptions of the fights, of the monster itself are messy and hard to imagine. All creepiness is lost, and to an extent, nothing seems as believable anymore. Characters are slow to realise the solution of teh problem, even though Victor has proven to have a quick mind since the beginning of the book. I was screaming at them what to do long before they actually thought of it and it was painful.
So yes, in between the book baby and the mess of an ending, Such Wicked Intent was nothing in comparison to This Dark Endeavour. Where it nailed the creepy, chilly atmosphere of the realm of the dead, it couldn’t handle a finale that ended up falling flat on its face and conveyed neither urgency nor the atmosphere that had made the rest of the book so good.