book review: this dark endeavour

Kenneth Oppel’s YA novel This Dark Endeavour is a story of Viktor Frankenstein as a young man. He and his twin brother Konrad live in a castle near Geneva with their cousin Elizabeth. Though they’re identical twins, Konrad is the one who’s better at talking to people and fencing and schoolwork and bravery and all the things that get a young man attention. But when Konrad falls mysteriously ill Viktor and Elizabeth and their friend Henry turn to the forbidden art of alchemy to see if they can help him where the doctors failed.

It’s a good story. It has a clear escalating structure of finding alchemical ingredients, and the jealousy Viktor feels for Konrad is mixed with love enough that you want him to succeed even if you know he’s taking a weird self-absorbed path. Also, there’s passionate teenage declarations of love and melodrama. The weirdest part of the book was the Frankenstein family’s anachronistic liberalism. Early on there’s a scene where the family makes dinner for the servants, which helps make the upper-class family thing feel a bit more relatable for 21st century readers, but felt reductionist to me.

In any case, it worked well as a dark YA adventure story, and had some interesting discussion of alchemy, science and religion. I’ll recommend it.

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