Monday, July 16, 2012

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: This Dark Endeavour

Today’s pick: This Dark Endeavour  by Kenneth Oppel
HarperCollins, 2011

From the publisher’s website:

Victor Frankenstein leads a charmed life. He and his twin brother, Konrad, and their beautiful cousin Elizabeth take lessons at home and spend their spare time fencing and horseback riding. Along with their friend Henry, they have explored all the hidden passageways and secret rooms of the palatial Frankenstein chateau. Except one.
The Dark Library contains ancient tomes written in strange languages and filled with forbidden knowledge. Their father makes them promise never to visit the library, but when Konrad becomes deathly ill, Victor knows he must find the book that contains the recipe for the legendary Elixir of Life.

The elixir needs only three ingredients. But impossible odds, dangerous alchemy and a bitter love triangle threaten their quest at every turn.
Victor knows he must not fail. Yet his success depends on how far he is willing to push the boundaries of nature, science and love—and how much he is willing to sacrifice.

My take:
I got fully immersed in the world of Victor Frankenstein and his family. This novel has everything a tween reader might want – spooky explorations of secret passages and caves, fast-paced action and swordfighting, mad scientists, and a quest for seemingly impossible to obtain ingredients for a mysterious potion. Fans of Kenneth Oppel’s books will like the strange and lethal creatures that pop up in this story, as well as all the suspense and action.  

This prequel to the story of Frankstein is described as a young adult novel, but I think 12 and 13-year-old readers will enjoy it as well. Just be warned that there are some slightly gruesome elements (severed body parts) and some romance (a key plot element is a love triangle).
As a writer, I’d read this again to study how to create a flawed viewpoint character that readers will root for. Victor Frankenstein has negative qualities, and the reader is definitely aware of them. But at the same time, I was compelled to see if he would succeed at what he set out to do.  Then there’s also the skillful writing – I love the way the author uses only the words he needs, yet also manages to include details to create spooky atmosphere and settings.

What an almost 13-year-old says:
“Can we buy this book? I think we should have our own copy.”

“I liked it because it has lots of surprises and twists.”

 Other info:
This book was a finalist for the 2011 Governor General’s Literary Awards - Children's Literature (Text).

It is being made into a motion picture by the producers of Twilight.
Kenneth Oppel lives in Toronto.

On his website he says, “When I get halfway through a draft of a book, I usually hit the wall and don't want to carry on, because there's so much unfinished work behind me. So back I go and rewrite.”

Other books by this author include:
Novels for Young Adults

Such Wicked Intent, HarperCollins (Canada), August 2012, a sequel to This Dark Endeavour
Half Brother, HarperCollins (Canada) 2010

Starclimber, HarperCollins (Canada) 2008
Darkwing, HarperCollins (Canada) 2007
Skybreaker, HarperCollins (Canada) 2005

Airborn, HarperCollins (Canada) 2004

Firewing, HarperCollins (Canada) 2002

Sunwing, HarperCollins (Canada) 1999

Silverwing, HarperCollins (Canada) 1997
Dead Water Zone, Kids Can Press (Canada) 1992
The Live-Forever Machine, Kids Can Press (Canada) 1990

Chapter Books
The Barnes and the Brains Series: A Bad Case of Ghosts, A Strange Case of Magic, A Crazy Case of Robots, An Incredible Case of Dinosaurs, A Weird Case of Super-Goo, A Creepy Case of Vampires (all published by HarperCollins Canada)

Emma's Emu, Fitzhenry & Whiteside, reissued 1999

Picture Books
The King's Taster, HarperCollins (Canada) 2009
Peg and the Yeti, HarperCollins (Canada) 2004
Peg and the Whale, HarperCollins (Canada) 2000
Follow That Star, Kids Can Press, 1992, out of print
Cosimo Cat, Scholastic Books, 1990, out of print

Adult Novels
The Devil's Cure, HarperCollins (Canada) 2000

For more, visit Kenneth Oppel’s website.

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday was dreamed up by the incredible Shannon Messenger. Visit her blog for an up-to-date list of all the bloggers who are participating and posting about middle grade books today!


  1. This sounds good. I love alchemy. Thanks for the great review and all the info about Kenneth Oppel. I can't believe I haven't read anything by him.

    1. Sometimes Canadian authors fly under the radar. But my daughter loved his Silverwing books.

  2. A prequel to Frankenstein--how interesting! Thanks so much for the review.

  3. Very interesting, reminds me of a book I just finished called The Monstrumologist. It took a while to get into that book, but it was a fascinating character study of a complicated man (the monster doctor). I'll have to check this out, thanks for the write-up!

    1. I got the Monstrumentologist from the library once and couldn't get into it. But now that I know it takes a while to get going, I'll have to give it another look.

  4. I've never heard of this--I better get to reading before the movie pops up. I always like to get the books under my belt first!

  5. The cover is fantastic and the review you wrote has me thinking that this is a book I could really get into. I like that it is a prequel to Frankenstein. How fun! Thanks for sharing.

  6. I was trepidacious about this book for just the reason you mention: the flawed character. Could Oppel make me feel sympathetic toward a character that could convincingly turn into Dr. Frankenstein? The answer is definitely yes!

    I'm excited about the sequel but even more worried: young Victor can only become more flawed . . . it's kind of like Annikin Skywalker turning into Darth Vader! Except I think Oppel will do a better job of it. ;-P

    1. It's really interesting how he managed to pull off keeping the reader's interest with this flawed character. But I think at first he's not as obviously flawed and then it becomes more pronounced.

  7. I'm always looking for a new book. Thanks for sharing this one:)


I love to hear your responses and thoughts! Your comments will appear after moderation (I’ve decided to enable moderation due to excessive spam).