This Dark Endeavor

This Dark Endeavor

The Apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein

Book - 2011
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2011 Governor General's Literary Awards Finalist - Children's Literature (Text)

Victor Frankenstein leads a charmed life. He and his twin brother, Konrad, and their beautiful cousin Elizabeth take lessons at home and spend their spare time fencing and horseback riding. Along with their friend Henry, they have explored all the hidden passageways and secret rooms of the palatial Frankenstein chateau. Except one.

The Dark Library contains ancient tomes written in strange languages and filled with forbidden knowledge. Their father makes them promise never to visit the library, but when Konrad becomes deathly ill, Victor knows he must find the book that contains the recipe for the legendary Elixir of Life.

The elixir needs only three ingredients. But impossible odds, dangerous alchemy and a bitter love triangle threaten their quest at every turn.

Victor knows he must not fail. Yet his success depends on how far he is willing to push the boundaries of nature, science and love--and how much he is willing to sacrifice.

Publisher: Toronto : HarperCollins, c2011
Edition: 1st Canadian ed
ISBN: 9781554683390
Branch Call Number: Y OPP
Characteristics: 297 p. ; 18 cm
Alternative Title: This dark endeavour


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This Dark Endeavour is a prequel to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. I am always a bit skeptic about prequels that are written a century or more after the initial novel. Yet, this book is a pleasant surprise: it is believable (as if indeed it is the real pre-story to Frankenstein). This Dark Endeavour is like a triple-flavoured ice-cream. The novel literally has lots of layers: history, science, magic, love, integrity – just to name a few. All of these subjects are covered deeply enough to create a sense of realism, but not too deep to instill a sense of boredom. Kenneth Oppel does a marvelous job depicting 18th century Europe: I submerged into it head and toes! There is never a dull moment; the novel is always moving forward. There are three main characters: Victor and Konrad Frankenstein (twin brothers) and their cousin Elizabeth. The three of them grew up together and were happy playmates until they reached their adolescent years. Very soon, they learn too many things at once: love and friendship don’t always go together, jealousy knows no boundaries, passion and duty are often on the opposite ends of the spectrum, and there is never a good or smart way to outwit death… (Submitted by Mariya)

Dec 02, 2017

I've read such wicked intent the second book and it is really good so im holding on this book right now cause I just have a feeling that this is going to be really good. You should totally read such wicked intent if you haven't.

SCL_Justin Aug 03, 2017

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.

Dec 04, 2016

I really liked the symbolism in this book. We have to read this for our English class as a potential source for our final essays and activities. To be very honest, I hate it when teachers take perfectly fine books and break them into tiny splinters of knowledge that we have to know completely and utterly. I am pretty sure authors write books and have some chapters with non-essential information, but apparently in school "everything is important." I really ship Elizabeth and Konrad though, I don't see why people like Victor. He is really too irrational, and I relate to Konrad more in personality. I think. 4/5.
- @Siri of the Teen Review Board at the Hamilton Public Library

Apr 09, 2016

This book is sooo good, it actually got me scared at the best parts. Kenneth Oppel is by far one of the best writers of our time.

Aug 16, 2014

“This Dark Endeavour” stars Victor Frankenstein, a sixteen year old aristocrat from Geneva, Switzerland. When Victor’s twin brother Konrad falls ill with a mysterious sickness, Victor sets off to create a cure. Victor enlists the help of his extremely distant cousin Elizabeth, his friend Henry, and an alchemist named Julius Polidori.

This novel is meant to tell the tale of the early years of Doctor Frankenstein, the scientist that created the monster from Mary Shelley’s beloved “Frankenstein”. However, all it manages to do is bore audiences. While the author has made a wonderful attempt at adding in plot twists and interesting, daring adventures, it has not worked in his favor. The end result was a dull, predictable novel that does not capture the attention of readers. The characters, for the most part, are likeable. However, they are terribly clichéd. Henry is the weak, artistic best friend and wing man. Elizabeth is the raging, outspoken female character. Victor is the rather whiny and brooding main character who constantly falls in the shadow of his much-better-in-every-way brother Konrad. There is an unnecessary and uncomfortable love triangle that occurs between Elizabeth, Konrad, and Victor. The setting is rather well written, but does no more than to remind readers that they do not live in a chateau beside a lake. The plot contains many dull moments that tend to drag out for longer than necessary. The action scenes are descriptive and easy to imagine, but are very over the top and unnecessarily over dramatic.

Overall, “This Dark Endeavour” is a relatively plain novel. The author of this review believes it suitable for ages fourteen and up. It is such a shame that this novel was executed so poorly, as a story about the early life of Doctor Frankenstein was a brilliant idea.

Oct 04, 2013

This Dark Endeavour – The Apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein was written by Kenneth Oppel and originally published in 2011 by Harper Trophy Canada

Most people have heard of Dr. Frankenstein and his monster; if not from Mary Shelley’s book Frankenstein ‘or the Modern Prometheus’, than from one of the many movie adaptations that have been made since the books 1818 release. I was lucky enough to be assigned Frankenstein when I was in University and really enjoyed the book though I really must revisit it since it has been too long and details escape me. When I first heard that Kenneth Oppel was writing a prequel series I knew I had to read it because I love a good origin story. And when is a better time to pick up a gothic thriller than October?

First I want to have a quick chat about the cover. I own the redesigned cover with Victor standing in front of a building which I actually enjoy. I like the choice of font and that the outline of the picture is blurred. The shadowed face looks dark and ominous and everything seems to fits the theme of the book. I also listened to the audiobook; I think the actor did a good job but nothing stood out or wowed me about the performance.

Victor and his identical twin Konrad have always done everything together. With the help of their distant cousin Elizabeth and their friend Henry they put on extravagant plays as well as challenge each other in fencing. They live an easy life in the Chateau Frankenstein nestled in the woods of Geneva. They have had a very loving and liberal upbringing which has shaped their personalities. Konrad is the older twin by only two minutes, but he couldn’t be more different from his twin. He is charming and adored by everyone for his wit and athletic ability. Victor on the other hand is curious by nature with an arrogance that makes him work hard to live up to his brother. When Konrad suddenly falls ill with a strange disease Victor will stop at nothing to help him get better. Doctor after doctor attempt to cure him without success, so when science fails him he turns to the “Bibliotheca Obscura,” the Dark Library buried deep in the castles secret passageways and off limits to them by their father. Searching the many ancient tomes he comes across a recipe for the “Elixir for life.” He seeks the help of the shunned alchemist Polidori to interpret the strange alphabet, and his friends to help find the obscure ingredients necessary to save his brothers life before it’s too late.

This book grabbed my attention from the very beginning as almost immediately lives are put in danger. After being sucked in you won’t be able to put the book down because there is action, adventure and creepiness in every chapter. This book stays true to its source material as it is gothic and gritty and just plain good.

There is something about Victor that makes you feel for him and wins you over. Even though he is arrogant and often jealous of his brother, he is at the same time charming and passionate about everything he does. He definitely has a weakness and vulnerability when it comes to his brother, and will make great sacrifices to ensure his safety. Even going against his father’s wishes when he tells him, “You must abandon this dark endeavour” Throughout the book you can also start to see the dark side of Victor, and knowing the eventual path he takes to becoming an evil genius this is not surprising.

I enjoyed the book and finished it very quickly because I needed to find out what was going to happen in the end especially after hearing from others that the ending was gory and gross. I will definitely be checking out the second book called Such Wicked Intent soon to find out what happens next. I also think that I will be picking up Frankenstein again shortly. If you haven’t read this yet you should to. It’s a classic for a reason

Check out for more reviews.

mvkramer Sep 27, 2013

I must confess, I thought this book would be more exciting. It was actually pretty tame -- until about the last five chapters when it suddenly ramped up in tension, adn then abruptly ended. The true interest of this book comes from the relationship between Victor and Konrad: Victor envies his brother and feels bad about it, admires him, yet resents him, wants what he has but can't get it -- it's a great set-up.

Sep 09, 2013

Canadian Author, that should be enough to get your interest. What a tale, what an ending this certainly does fit well with the original story and how it all could have happened. He was 16 when it all started, what were you doing and worried about at 16? Could you have succuessfully gone through what he did and come out sane?

ChristchurchLib Sep 03, 2013

""With a delicious mix of science, history, and horror" (Publishers Weekly), This Dark Endeavor reinvents Victor Frankenstein as an arrogant, volatile 16-year-old who is intensely jealous and yet quite protective of his twin brother, Konrad. When Konrad falls gravely ill, Victor searches the family's secret library for a cure, finds a description of the forbidden Elixir of Life in an ancient text, and embarks on a dangerous quest to obtain its ingredients. Primarily Gothic in tone but injected with fiery action scenes and splashes of gore, this riveting tale of brotherly love is a good pick for fans of Rick Yancey's Monstrumologist series." September 2013 Teen Scene newsletter

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Apr 15, 2016

Scarlotte thinks this title is suitable for 10 years and over

Jul 24, 2013

blue_zebra_421 thinks this title is suitable for 12 years and over

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Jul 13, 2013

Kristen MERKE thinks this title is suitable for 12 years and over

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May 11, 2014

"It's a terrible thing," I said, "to be crippled in the prime of one's life."

"You've sprained your ankle,"

Aug 03, 2013

'"Your beauty makes the sunset itself pause," I said, "so it can behold you but a second longer."'

Page 215

Aug 03, 2013

'"Around her I feel like a pale, feeble moth. It's all I can do to avoid her flame."'

Page 147


Add a Summary
mvkramer Sep 27, 2013

Young Victor Frankenstein is a rich and privileged young man, the kind of boy who you might say has everything -- but Victor has always felt second best compared to his twin, Konrad. Victor's perfect life is shaken by two events -- his brother falls terribly ill, and he finds a secret room at the heart of his house, the laboratory of an alchemist ancestor. Although Victor promises his father that he won't go back, he suspects that only alchemy will save his brother's life, and he drags his cousin Elizabeth and his friend Henry into a dangerous quest to make the Elixir of Life. This quest will challenge Victor in body and soul; as he and Elizabeth work together, he finds himself falling in love with her, even though she loves Konrad. Will Victor be able to finish the Elixir and save his brother's life?

owen1261 Jul 02, 2012

When Victor Frankenstein twin brother (Konrad) gets deathly ill. His father sends for the best doctors in Europe but none of them can cure him. So Victor goes seeking the help of an alchemist to make the elixir of life.


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