This Dark Endeavour — Kenneth Oppel (The Apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein #1)

this-dark-endeavourMy coming across this book was a bit of pure luck, browsing the shelves at Waterstone’s and seeking something with a boy on the cover, or at least a boy protagonist among the girls that seem to dominate the YA genre. So when the book I picked up (actually Such Wicked Intent, which I hadn’t realised was book two at the time) offered not only a boy on the cover but the promise of a thrilling dark and gothic prequel to the story of Frankenstein, I was rather excited.Now let’s put it into context, I have never read much gothic horror, be it classical or modern, and my attempts at dipping my toes in the horror genre have never gotten me very far. I love the creepy, mysterious build ups but the endings always leave me disappointed, often  bitterly so. I did, however, hope that a story set in a time period so very suited to the genre and mixing alchemy with the paranormal would be what I had been looking for.Instantly, Victor (main twin and POV of both books) was my favourite of the twins: Konrad just seemed too damn good and too damn reasonable whereas Victor already promised all the greyness I like to find in my protagonists. So when Konrad falls mysteriously ill after he, his brother, and their childhood friend Elisabeth discover the family’s hidden Dark Library which contains hundreds of tomes on alchemy, Victor isn’t willing to sit still and wait for the doctors to do something. Instead, helped by Elisabeth, for whom he is just about starting to develop feelings, and their friend Henry who has always been dragged into their ‘adventures’, he delves into the Dark Library–against his father’s wishes–to seek a cure for his brother. That’s how he finds himself in possession of the recipe for the Elixir of Life, the one thing that could save Konrad and restore his life once and for all.

With the help of the alchemist Polidori who lives in disgrace in the nearby city, the three teenagers set off on a quest to find the different ingredients needed for the Elixir.

I was glad I knew from the back of book two that Konrad was going to die (sorry for the spoiler!) because otherwise this book would have hit me where it hurt and I don’t know whether I would have found myself more upset or angry at it. Although I couldn’t quite get attached to Konrad (who I spent the latter half of the book when he wasn’t back to half dying wanting to smack around the head), I felt for Victor as he was forced, first by his father then by Konrad himself, to stop pursuing his dabbling in alchemy.

But with how two out of the three ingredients in his possession, Victor decides he can’t possibly give up now and manages to shake both Henry and Elisabeth out of their refusal to help and the three of them return to the alchemist to finish up the Elixir.

The end of the book left a bitter taste in my mouth and left me both very disappointed and unfulfilled. No reason is given as to why what happens happens, and not even in the second book do any of the characters question the why. It’s a little frustrating, and I do feel that Oppel could have done better with this. There would be have been many different ways to end book one that would have been by far more shocking and yet far more appropriate, leaving the mystery open instead of taking part of it away.

Bar the ending, the book was fantastic. Victor is a flawed but believable character who, having just turned sixteen and possessed of passion. Having always come second best to Konrad, Victor feels that this is his time to shine, and where possible get the girl. But more than that, Victor craves the knowledge that comes to him, and with it the skill set that he is starting to acquire. Because Victor is good at alchemy, he seems almost intuitively skilled with it and for once he no longer feels as though he isn’t good enough. By his side is Henry, a friend from childhood who far prefers poetry to adventure but is steadfast in his loyalty to Victor and his brother. And there is Elisabeth, the pretty girl, distant cousin to the twins and the target or everyone’s attention. Now, having already read and finished book two, I can’t quite remember what I though of Elisabeth in this book. I think she was okay although I really wanted to smack the over-religiousness she displays later on in the story right out of her (but that, I guess, is just a question of preference).

All in all, This Dark Endeavour was a really good book, well written with the perfect imagery for its genre and believable flawed characters. It’s just a pity the ending seemed to leave me wanting more of a resolution.


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