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This Dark Endeavour - Kenneth Oppel 3.5 starsI read Scarlett as a teen and I decided it had put me off this prequel/sequel written by someone else business for life. (Really, can you blame me? That book is the worst.) Then they went and made Anne of Green Gables: The Continuing Story and I could have rage-cried from the whole ’have we learned nothing?!’ of it. And yet here I am, reviewing a prequel to Frankenstein, and as far as I’m concerned, Kenneth Oppel can have at it because this was good and it really works as a YA complement to Shelley’s gothic classic. I say this because while reading Frankenstein is not strictly a pre-requisite for enjoying This Dark Endeavour, it does heighten appreciation for how skilfully Oppel has entwined his novel with the original work. He doesn’t simply borrow from the source material; but creates a story that both stands solidly on its own merits, and also weaves the characterisation and thematic elements of the original with his own. Despite my initial misgivings at the idea of inventing an identical twin (Konrad) that didn’t exist in Shelley’s work, Oppel won me over with his dedication to writing a Victor that could plausibly evolve into the man Shelley had envisioned. Teenage-Victor is not an archetypal YA hero. He is sympathetic, but he is coloured with the shades of ambition, drive and selfishness that define him as an adult. Teenage-Victor is not above manipulation, and experiences complicated feelings of jealously and covetousness towards his twin. There’s clear internal conflict between Victor’s desire for recognition and glory, and his deep fraternal bond with Konrad. It’s the collision of these feelings that direct much of the plot of This Dark Endeavour.The Apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein is Oppel’s take on Victor’s introduction to the dark sciences, and his thirst for knowledge that won’t be satiated. Stumbling upon a concealed library of forbidden texts on alchemy – initially a source of amusement – takes on serious significance when Konrad falls ill . Fearing for Konrad’s life, Victor and his companions embark on a quest to create the Elixir of Life, aided by shunned former alchemist Julius Polidori. Complicating an already tense situation is the fact that the practice of alchemy has been outlawed in Geneva, a decree Victor’s magistrate father had part in enforcing. The novel had more of an adventure-style storyline than I was expecting, as the teens (Victor and Konrad, their adopted sister Elizabeth Lavenza and close friend Henry Clerval) endeavour to source each ingredient of the Elixir as Konrad’s health wanes. Victor leads much of the venture, driven by both his need to see his brother return to health, and his desire to step out of Konrad’s shadow and be recognised for greatness on his own. Elizabeth is possibly the biggest departure in characterisation from Shelley’s work, though this is no bad thing. While not a complete reimagining, Oppel gives Elizabeth a strong, feminist sensibility in his novel, and she plays an active role in the quest. There is a love triangle of sorts in the novel (a little literary cousin-love doesn’t bother me), but rather than being a tacked-on romantic subplot, Oppel uses it effectively to drive certain aspects of the story, and highlight elements of each character’s personalities. While Konrad apparently loves Elizabeth for her generous and warm nature, Victor is drawn her spirited and animalistic side. In a similar manner, we see the conflict of Elizabeth’s faith (she is the only member of the family who believes in God) and Victor’s belief in science, when Konrad’s life hangs in the balance. As such, there is some interesting discussion in the novel about science, spirituality, medicine and “magic” and how the lines between them (at least in context of this story) are blurred. The novel isn’t without anachronisms, particularly in its rendering of the characters and the way they act, but I can more readily forgive this is a novel with clearly fantastical elements, as opposed to a work of strict historical fiction. The teens’ escapades require significant suspension of belief, but not in a way that detracts from enjoying the story. It’s such a fun story to get caught up in that I don’t find the fluidity between the possible and impossible a negative aspect. Though I did just call this a “fun” story, it’s also quite dark. Not in a ”won’t somebody think of the children” way, but in the sense that the story doesn’t shy away from the darker side of human nature. As I mentioned earlier, I found Victor sympathetic, but he is also somewhat morally ambiguous at times, and his choices present an interesting and complicated conflict for the reader. This Dark Endeavour is a fitting lead in to the nightmare of ethics to come in Frankenstein, and a skilful foreshadowing of Victor’s impending obsession. * * * * *Okay, can someone please fix the synopsis for this edition because it's f#@&*^g PIQUE not peak.