In This Dark Endeavor, Kenneth Oppel tells the story of 15-year-old Victor Frankenstein and his quest to save the life of his identical twin brother, Konrad. This tale, set in the late 1700s, is Oppel’s creative prequel to Mary Shelley’s masterpiece.
Oppel, author of Airborn, Half Brother, and Silverwing, weaves together a story about twin brothers that could not be more opposite. Konrad is sweet and sensible and Victor is arrogant, jealous and passionate. Although the Frankenstein brothers differ in almost every other way, there is one similarity they both share: they are both completely in love with their cousin Elizabeth.
Early in the book, Victor, Konrad, Elizabeth and their friend Henry Clerval discover the hidden Dark Library in the Frankenstein household. Victor’s father, a very learned and progressive civic leader, expressly forbids the children from going back to the library and warns of the dangerous occultist ideas that reside within. Particularly he talks of the faulty and socially-intolerable pursuit of alchemy. However, when Konrad suddenly falls ill and is diagnosed with a fatal and untreatable disease, Victor believes alchemy to be the only hope.
Victor seeks the guidance of Polidori, a scorned former Alchemist now living as a recluse. Polidori convinces Victor that only the Elixir of Life could save Konrad’s life. Victor, Elizabeth and Henry’s pursuit of the Elixir of Life’s three rare ingredients provide the adventure portion of the story. Each ingredient resides in a dangerous location and the respective retrieval of each becomes increasingly perilous.
The reader can predict, from Victor’s character flaws, his transformation into the mad scientist of Shelley’s novel. In spite of these flaws, Victor is intrinsically devoted to his brother and his desire to save Konrad’s life ultimately makes Victor a sympathetic, compelling character. Elizabeth is similarly brave, intelligent and fiery, though she also possess Konrad’s propensity for kindness and sympathy. Henry, much like the Cowardly Lion or C3P0, frequently offers a voice of caution and restraint.
Much like Oppel’s Airborn or Rowling’s Harry Potter series, the lead is male but there is a very strong female secondary character. This makes for the broadest appeal for having both male and female readers. Further, the book has a crossover between horror, gothic romance and adventure, which should entice many types of genre reader.