9 Rated Books Book Reviews

Book Review: This Dark Endeavor by Kenneth Oppel

Title: This Dark Endeavor: The Apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein

Author: Kenneth Oppel

Genre: Speculative Fiction, Horror, Young Adult

Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication date: August 2011
Hardcover: 304 pages

Victor and Konrad are the twin brothers Frankenstein. They are nearly inseparable. Growing up, their lives are filled with imaginary adventures…until the day their adventures turn all too real.

They stumble upon The Dark Library, and secret books of alchemy and ancient remedies are discovered. Father forbids that they ever enter the room again, but this only piques Victor’s curiosity more. When Konrad falls gravely ill, Victor is not satisfied with the various doctors his parents have called in to help. He is drawn back to The Dark Library where he uncovers an ancient formula for the Elixir of Life. With their friend Elizabeth, Henry and Victor immediately set out to find assistance from a man who was once known for his alchemical works to help create the formula.

Determination and the unthinkable outcome of losing his brother spur Victor on in the quest for the three ingredients that will save Konrad’s life. After scaling the highest trees in the Strumwald, diving into the deepest lake caves, and sacrificing one’s own body part, the three fearless friends risk their lives to save another.

Stand alone or series: Book 1 in a planned trilogy

How did I get this book: ARC from the publisher

Why did I read this book: Kenneth Oppel. Frankenstein. The evocative title. The cover art. KENNETH OPPEL. Need I say more?


“You must abandon this dark endeavor.”

So says Victor’s father, when he learns the truth of his son’s desperate explorations into the heart of darkness. Victor and his identical twin brother, Konrad, have lived a charmed life at Chateau Frankenstein. Doted on by loving parents, treated to a rigorous liberal education, and given the companionship of their adopted distant cousin Elizabeth and neighbor Henry, at fifteen years of age the twins want for nothing. Though both Victor and Konrad are identical in appearance, however, the twins are very different. While Konrad is beloved by all thanks to his easy charm and has both a sharp mind and is quick to pick up any sort of athletic feat, Victor is more aloof and must work hard to even come close to his brother’s intellectual or physical prowess. And, unlike his twin, Victor burns with an unmatched passion and curiosity that is frightening in its intensity. When Konrad falls mortally ill due to a strange disease of the blood, Victor watches as doctors try all manners of treatments to no avail. Frustrated with the failings of science, Victor turns to the Frankenstein Chateau’s forbidden Dark Library, hidden in the mansion’s secret passages, and searches for an alchemical remedy that can save his brother. With the help of Elizabeth and Henry to gather the necessary ingredients, and the expertise of fallen alchemist Polidori, Victor takes on the impossible and sets out to create the Elixir of Life. At what cost does the elixir come, though? And what urges might this dark endeavor stir in young Victor?

If you are familiar with Mary Shelley’s masterpiece, you will know how certain events must play out – which means This Dark Endeavor is a tragic novel from the beginning, with an air of inevitability. You know of Victor Frankenstein and his hubris, of his Monster and the tragedy that follows him. You know of his studies at Ingolstadt, and the fate of his family and future wife. As Frankenstein is one of my favorite classics, I was both thrilled and a bit frightened to read this prequel (though my fears were insignificant, given the trust I have in the talented Mr. Oppel). And wouldn’t you know it? This Dark Endeavor surpasses all expectations, brushes aside any residual fears, and is an ode to Mary Shelley’s Victor Frankenstein in all the right ways. Once again, I find myself lost for words and can only describe my feelings for This Dark Endeavor in the simplest way: I love this book.

Loyal to its source material in spirit and tone, This Dark Endeavor manages to take the gothic tale of Shelley’s ambitious, tragic narrator and extrapolate Victor’s character to his detailed childhood. The fifteen year-old Victor of This Dark Endeavor is passionate to a fault, deeply curious, and insatiably hungry for answers. The invention of a mortally ill twin brother as the catalyst for Victor’s unrestrained descent into alchemy and galvanism is ingenious, giving us a way to sympathize with this tragic protagonist – we see the seedlings of obsession planted in this novel and cultivated of the best intentions, just as we see how Victor’s intensity has the power to inspire and to frighten. I love this extra layer of color Mr. Oppel gives young master Frankenstein, rendering Victor a much more complex young man than just an arrogant, intelligent boy that will one day create a monster. THe other characters are also expertly drawn, with the tension between brothers a palpable thing throughout the book. As much as Victor may have passion and conviction, he sees himself as the imperfect brother to Konrad’s perfection, the dark to Konrad’s light. And while it is undeniable that Victor loves his brother, there are moments in the book where jealousy rears its ugly head, and Victor himself is afraid of his motivations.

Elizabeth, a distant cousin to the Frankensteins, is a perfect foil for both Konrad and Victor – she’s angelic and religious to Konrad’s nature, but at the same time has an animal wildness to her that answers Victor’s own.[1. I should mention that the The love triangle between the two twins and cousin Elizabeth provides some nice tension (and, I daresay, might get some reluctant readers who want a little romance with their historical YA to give this novel a try), although, again, if you know Shelley’s story, you know who ends up marrying her in the end…so it’s not really much of a contest, is it?] Henry Clerval, another familiar face from the original novel, is another interesting character – less adventurous but unfalteringly loyal to his friends and brave at heart when it counts, Henry balances the intensity that Victor brings. And, of course, there’s also the mysterious alchemist Polidori (a name you might recall in the creation of Shelley’s novel), who helps the teens create their elusive Elixir.

And I haven’t even said anything about the story, yet! While the characters are superb, the novel itself is a tantalizing adventure, fraught with danger and cloaked in a lusciously dark, evocative atmosphere. Chateau Frankenstein, an imposing castle enfolded by the Geneva woods, has never felt more real. There are midnight excursions for rare plants, underground caverns, alchemical brews, dungeons, and secret laboratories. There is so much to This Dark Endeavor, and I loved every second of this novel. For the fan of Mary Shelley, for the student that might struggle to find a way to connect with the older iteration of Victor Frankenstein, for the bright-eyed reader that wants to try something new, dark and delectable, This Dark Endeavor awaits. One of my top 10 favorite reads of 2011.

Notable Quotes/Parts: From Chapter 1:

WE FOUND THE MONSTER ON A ROCKY LEDGE HIGH ABOVE the lake. For three dark days my brother and I had tracked it through the maze of caves to its lair on the mountain’s summit. And now we beheld it, curled atop its treasure, its pale fur and scales ablaze with moonlight.

It knew we were there. Doubtless it had smelled us coming, its flared nostrils drinking in our sweat and fear. Its crested head lifted slightly, almost lazily. Coins and jewels clinked and shifted as its body began to uncoil.

“Kill it!” I roared. My sword was in my hand, and my brother was at my side, his own blade flashing.

The speed with which the beast struck was incomprehensible. I tried to throw myself clear, but its muscular neck crashed against my right arm, and I felt the arm break and dangle uselessly at my side. But my sword hand was my left, and with a bellow of pain I slashed at the monster’s chest, my blade deflecting off its mighty ribs.

I was aware of my brother striking at the beast’s lower regions, all the while trying to avoid its lashing barbed tail. The monster came at me again, jaws agape. I battered its head, trying to stab its mouth or eyes, but it was as quick as a cobra. It knocked me sprawling to the stone, so that I was perilously close to the precipice’s edge. The monster reared back, ready to strike, and then it shrieked in pain, for my brother had severed one of its hind legs.

But still the monster faced only me—as if I were its sole adversary.

I pushed myself up with my good hand. Before the monster could strike, I hurled myself at it. This time my sword plunged deep into its chest, so deep I could scarcely wrench it out. A ribbon of dark fluid unfurled in the moonlight, and the monster reared to its full height, terrible to behold, and then crumpled.

Its head shattered on the ground, and there, among the bloodied fur and cracked crest, was the face of a beautiful girl.

My brother came to my side, and together we gazed at her, marveling.

“We’ve broken the curse,” he said to me. “We have saved the town. And we have released her.”

The girl’s eyes opened, and she looked from my brother to me. I knew she didn’t have long to live, and a question burned inside me. I knelt.

“Why?” I asked her. “Why was it only me you attacked?”

“Because it is you,” she whispered, “who is the real monster.”

And with that, she died, leaving me more shaken than I could describe. I staggered back. My brother could not have heard her words—they were spoken so softly—and when he asked me what she’d said, I shook my head.

“Your arm,” he said with concern, steadying me.

“It will heal.” I turned my gaze to the pile of treasure.

“We have more than can ever be spent,” my brother murmured.

I looked at him. “The treasure is mine alone.”

He stared back in astonishment, this brother of mine who looked so much like me, we might have been the same person. And indeed we were, for we were identical twins.

“What do you mean?” he said.

I lifted my sword, put the tip against his throat, and forced him, step by step, toward the edge of the precipice.

“Why should we not share this,” he demanded, “as we’ve shared everything else equally?”

I laughed then, at the lie of it. “No twins are ever completely equal,” I said. “Though we’re of one body, we are not equal, Brother, for you were born the sooner by two minutes. Even in our mother’s womb you stole from me. The family birthright is yours. And such a treasure that is, to make this one look like a pauper’s pittance. But I want it, all of it. And I shall have it.”

At that moment the monster stirred, and in alarm I turned—only to see it making its final death contraction. But in that same instant my brother drew his sword.

“You will not cheat me!” he shouted.

Back and forth across the ledge we fought. We were both strong, with broad shoulders and taut muscles that thrived on exertion. But my brother had always been the better swordsman, and with my broken arm I was even more disadvantaged. But my cold serpent’s resolve was strong, and before long I had smacked the sword from his hand and forced him to his knees. Even as he stared at me with my own face, and pleaded with me in my own voice, I plunged the sword into his heart and stole his life.

I gave a sigh of utter relief and looked up at the moon, felt the cool May air caress my face.

“Now I shall have all the riches in the world,” I said. “And I am, at last, alone.”

You can read a full excerpt online HERE.

Additional Thoughts: In the tradition of many big YA novels, This Dark Endeavor has been optioned for film by Summit (surprise, surprise)! Even cooler, a director has been assigned to the film and progress is being made. Check out the details:

Let Me In director Matt Reeves has been signed to direct This Dark Endeavor, with Mean Creek writer/helmer Jacob Aaron Estes writing the script for Summit Entertainment. Deadline told you yesterday about a batch of films based on the Mary Shelley Frankenstein novel. Summit just took a step forward in this contest. The film is based on the Kenneth Oppel novel This Dark Endeavor: The Apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein. It will be published this summer by Simon & Schuster, the first of a series.[…] Reeves, who also directed Cloverfield, adds This Dark Endeavor to two other projects he’s working on. He signed recently to direct the Justin Cronin vampire novel The Passage for Fox 2000, and he’s got a deal at Universal to write and direct a film based on the Ray Nelson short story 8 O’Clock in the Morning, about a man who awakens with the realization that aliens are all over the place and control society. Estes just completed The Details, the Tobey Maguire/Elizabeth Banks-starrer that sold to The Weinstein Company in a big deal at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival. Both are repped by CAA.

From Deadline NY via KennethOppel.com

Rating: 9 – Damn Near Perfection, and ANOTHER Top 10 of 2011 book.


Buy the Book:

Ebook available for kindle US & nook

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  • vivienne
    August 17, 2011 at 12:32 am

    I am so pleased to read this is good. I think this one comes out in October over here, but we picked up some ARC at the Random House event and they made it sound so exciting. I love the gothic feel for this book. I can’t wait to read it.

  • SonomaLass
    August 17, 2011 at 1:50 am

    Nothing makes me happier than a tribute to a classic that gets it right. I might be able to talk my sons into reading this.

  • Book Review: This Dark Endeavor by Kenneth Oppel | The Book Smugglers | ReviewTica
    August 17, 2011 at 5:39 am

    […] Go here to see the original Book Review: Book Review: This Dark Endeavor by Kenneth Oppel | The Book Smugglers […]

  • Allison
    August 17, 2011 at 7:03 am

    I have to read Frankenstein for a class this semester, I think I’ll pick up a copy of this to read afterwards! Definitely sounds worth it after this review and another I’ve seen.

  • Daniela
    August 17, 2011 at 8:22 am

    I was already intrigued by this book, but your review definitely convinced me to bump it up to the top of my to-read list. I’m really looking forward to reading it!

  • Thea
    August 17, 2011 at 8:40 am

    Vivienne – I truly hope you enjoy it! Kenneth Oppel really nails the atmosphere and characterizations perfectly in this book. The perfect fall night read 🙂

    SonomaLass – You can say that again. I think this book would be a great introductory novel to younger readers who might not be so interested in the classics (but could be nudged that way…). I hope your son enjoys this one!

    Allison – OOOH, PERFECT! It’s really cool to go back and recognize names, places and ideas from the original. I love that Oppel doesn’t try to ape Shelley’s style, but preserves the essence of Frankenstein. Can’t wait to see what you think!

    Daniela – Huzzah! I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

  • Memory
    August 17, 2011 at 9:12 am

    I can’t believe I didn’t know Kenneth Oppel had a new book out! He’s one of my long-time favourites. I’m rereading his Airborn books right now and am contemplating a Silverwing reread in the near future. I just placed a request for this one at my library.

  • Thea
    August 17, 2011 at 9:20 am

    Memory – I still have to finish the third Airborn book! And I haven’t read the Silverwing books, but I desperately need to remedy that soon. Needless to say, I am VERY excited to glom his backlist.

  • Emily's Reading Room
    August 17, 2011 at 9:58 am

    Did I read that right? It’s going to be part of a series?! That is just fantastic. And, I think it would make a great movie.

  • Lori Strongin
    August 17, 2011 at 10:45 am

    100% adding this to my TBR pile! Sad to say, I haven’t read anything by Oppel before, but everything in this blurb and review hits my buttons. I *loved* Shelley’s novel and had read other authors’ interpretations of the characters, but none took a prequel or YA approach. Thank you so so much for the rec!!!


  • Pam (@iwriteinbooks)
    August 17, 2011 at 2:43 pm

    Wow, this is the second spectacular review I’ve seen of this, today. I really need to get my hands on it. Fabulous.

  • Jennygirl
    August 21, 2011 at 5:56 pm

    I did Frankenstein via audio a few years back and enjoyed it immensely. Since this one follows that basic outline, I will definitely pick it up. sounds super creepy and Gothic. Thanks as always for your fab review.
    How many movie options can SUMMIT buy? For reals.

  • Miranda
    August 24, 2011 at 7:41 pm

    ohhh. this is delightful. I am so pleased to find this review! I saw this cover not too long ago and it has stuck with me. deeeefinitely picking it up now. thank you thank you!

  • Friday Five: Around the Blogosphere « Becky Levine
    October 14, 2011 at 7:22 am

    […] I loved the book but am feeling too lazy to write about it, this excellent review of Kenneth Oppel’s This Dark Endeavor, from Thea at The Book […]

  • The Frankensteins « obgothic
    October 20, 2011 at 9:22 am

    […] Second, there is This Dark Endeavor by Kenneth Oppel. This is a fun story that follows the life of Victor Frankenstein when he was only in his 16th year. I admit that I have often wondered what kind of life Frankenstein lived before we first meet him in Shelley’s story. What type of childhood did this mad genius have? Who were his parents and who were friends? Did he have any siblings? Oppel took on the challenge to create the young adult life of Victor in the form of a young adult story. Like Achroyd, Oppel respected what Shelley created. When you read his story you can see the hints of the future as you know how this young man will die. For more about this story, click here. […]

  • ghostly past
    October 23, 2011 at 10:02 am

    i heard they were making a movie about this, i really hope that directer matt reeves can do a good job, i hope he can keep the jist of the book and stick to the storyline. just cross your fingers that the movie won’t be as bad a the alex rider movies and maybe they can but a larger budget in to it.

  • Anonymous
    November 7, 2011 at 6:50 pm

    “I should mention that the The love triangle between the two twins and cousin Elizabeth provides some nice tension (and, I daresay, might get some reluctant female readers to give this novel a try)”

    I’d strongly encourage you to reread this footnote because I feel like it’s worded exceptionally poorly. I know you guys are very sensitive regarding manners of sexism in fiction (I was first linked to your site through your review on Jackson Pierce’s “Sisters Red”), and as it is, reading this sentence left a sour taste in my mouth.

  • tessa
    November 24, 2011 at 6:50 am

    is the book this dark end eavor good for a 4th grader.

  • Oppel, Kenneth: This Dark Endeavor | Calico Reaction
    April 19, 2012 at 9:01 pm

    […] not work for me, other reviewers have absolutely loved and adored this book. Let me point you to The Book Smugglers, who rated this as a 9 out of 10, which for them is “damn near perfect.” Truly, […]

  • Book Review: Such Wicked Intent by Kenneth Oppel | The Book Smugglers
    September 24, 2012 at 8:00 am

    […] did I read this book: I am a huge fan of Kenneth Oppel’s writing, and loved This Dark Endeavor intensely. Thus, Such Wicked Intent was one of my most highly anticipated books of […]

  • Jack Burnston
    March 27, 2013 at 6:04 pm

    I have read the book and it is aswome i could not stop reading it it was so good i finished it 6 days

  • Review: This Dark Endeavour by Kenneth Oppel
    October 25, 2013 at 12:02 am

    […] ? Thea @ The Book Smugglers wrote “There is so much to This Dark Endeavor, and I loved every second of this novel. For the fan of Mary Shelley, for the student that might struggle to find a way to connect with the older iteration of Victor Frankenstein, for the bright-eyed reader that wants to try something new, dark and delectable, This Dark Endeavor awaits.” (Read the rest of the review Here!) […]

  • Anonymous
    May 4, 2015 at 3:16 am

    as you all know i am a number 1 fan of this dark endeavor.

  • charlie kim
    May 4, 2015 at 3:18 am

    i have read the book and is so great i finished it for 3 days and i always read it when i get bored and i am so excited for the book 2 …..

  • harry
    April 5, 2017 at 11:48 pm

    i dont think this is a very good book because it is boring and there is no real hard stuff

  • fred
    April 5, 2017 at 11:49 pm

    i relly disagree i love the book

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