By Kenneth Oppel
Published by David Fickling Books
ISBN 978 0 857 56012 4
In the 1800s, an 18-year-old Englishwoman called Mary Shelley started writing a novel called Frankenstein. It is about a scientist who creates a monstrous creature from bits of dead bodies. Since it was first published in London, this short novel has become one of the most famous horror stories ever written. Shelley's novel has influenced countless movies and modern writers of horror stories, horror manga and horror graphic novels. Pretty good going for a teen who didn't think many people would read her novel!
You can't keep a good monster down, and now award-winning author Kenneth Oppel has written a highly original and stylish prequel to Shelley's gothic classic. This Dark Endeavour is the first in a pair of new gothic thrillers about young Victor Frankenstein's life before he created the most famous literary monster of all time.
The novel is set in the 18-century Swiss city-state of Geneva. Victor and Konrad Frankenstein are twins, born within just two minutes of each other. The Frankenstein family is rich, and the boys have a privileged upbringing and education. But then something dreadful occurs. Konrad falls dangerously sick, and no doctor in Switzerland or France is able to offer hope of curing him. Victor is desperate. Life without his brother is unthinkable. Victor is a strong and wilful character, and he decides he must do everything he can to save his brother.
Completely by chance, Victor, his cousin Elizabeth and their good friend Henry discover a secret library in the vaults beneath Castle Frankenstein. Here they find books about ancient magic, alchemy and sorcery. As they leaf through one of the dusty tomes, Victor discovers a formula for the Elixir of Life.
He realises that this could be used to cure Konrad. Victor tracks down a man who is rumoured to be an alchemist. He asks Polidori to make the life-saving potion for Konrad. Polidori all too quickly agrees to help young Frankenstein, and it's no surprise that this shadowy figure turns out to have motives of his own.
The main part follows Victor, Henry and Elizabeth on their quest to find the three ingredients that will save Konrad.
Chapter 14, when Victor makes a great sacrifice to obtain the third ingredient, should carry a health warning because you will be chewing your fingernails down to the bone. This is one of the most exciting few pages you are likely ever to come across in a novel.
This Dark Endeavour is a readable gothic chiller, and much more. The horror element is more psychological than gory, the tension unbearable in places and the plot and characterisation very real. Oppel deserves endless praise for what he has done with the story of Frankenstein. The second part of the series is due out this summer, and I, for one, can't wait.
John Millen can be contacted on MillenBookshelf@aol.com