Tuesday, October 18, 2011

This Dark Endeavor: The Apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein by Kenneth Oppel

“The purest intentions can stir up the darkest obsessions.”

When sixteen-year-old twins Victor and Konrad Frankenstein are rough housing with their distant cousin, Elizabeth Lavenza, in the library, they unwittingly discover a secret passageway hidden behind a bookcase. The trio is delighted to find a passage they had yet to explore. Fetching a candlestick, they begin to explore the broad square shaft by going down the stairs. Part of the way down, they come across a door. Instead of a handle, there is a hole with the words, “Enter only with a friend’s welcome.” Victor is curious to see what’s behind the locked door and slips his hand into the hole where something immediately grabs it. Elizabeth decides to go for help but discovers the exit to the library closed. Victor panics to free himself but Elizabeth realizes that the saying above the door is actually a riddle and to open the door, Victor must shake hands as if greeting a friend. He does and his hand is freed when the door swings open. Inside they find a library that looks like it hasn’t been used since Wilhelm Frankenstein built the chateau 300 years earlier. Konrad and Elizabeth want to leave but Victor is intrigued by the books and wants to stay. They are soon discovered by their father. He tells them the history of Wilhelm and his Biblioteka Obscura or Dark Library. Wilhelm was an alchemist who tried to find the forbidden Elixir of Life before mysteriously disappearing at the age of 43. Victor is even more intrigued by the library but their father makes them promise never to speak of the library or return again. Victor is deeply disappointed.

When Konrad falls ill, the Frankenstein’s bring in several doctors. No one can determine the cause of his illness and Victor becomes distraught over the “loss” of his brother. When he inadvertently overhears his mother and Maria the housekeeper talking about Konrad’s condition, Victor picks up the word alchemy. He begins to think that maybe the Dark Library may hold the answer to cure his brother. Victor enlists the help of Elizabeth and their friend Henry to sneak back into the Dark Library to look for answers. They find a recipe for the Elixir of Life but it is written in code. They locate a book that contains the cipher for the code, but it has been badly damaged by fire. Victor decides to approach Maria to see if she will tell him what she mentioned to his mother. Victor goes to Maria and asks her what she meant by using alchemy. Hesitant at first, Maria tells Victor about an alchemist who cured a general’s daughter when no one else could. Victor knows his father Alphonse “cannot bear talk of alchemy.” He pressures Maria and she tearfully gives him the alchemist’s name, Julius Polidori. Victor has never heard of him and questions whether he still resides in Geneva. Maria doesn’t know but suggests that he find out.

The next morning, the trio convince Victor’s father to allow them to join him in going to Geneva under the pretense of touring the city as part of their schooling. City Hall and the outlying apothecary shops yield no traces of anyone named Polidori. After scouring newspaper accounts of the incident that Maria recalled, Elizabeth finds the article that mentions Julius Polidori of Wollstonekraft Alley. They find what appears to be Polidori’s shop in a state of disrepair. The threesome become even more alarmed when Mr. Polidori appears to be wheelchair bound. He asks if they are in need of some medicine and Elizabeth states they are searching for the Elixir of Life. He bids them good day but stops when Victor pulls out the Occulta Philosophia. Polidori tells them that both the book and the elixir are nothing but grand delusions and tells them of the path his life took after the general’s daughter was cured. Consequently the elixir worked for some but not for all. When a wealthy merchant’s wife died after taking it, he was brought before a magistrate who forbade him from making the elixir ever again. The magistrate turned out to be Victor’s father. The merchant vowed vengeance and Polidori survived a fall only to be paralyzed from the waist down.

When Polidori finds out that Victor also has The Archidoxes of Magic, which contains the elixir’s cipher, he is immediately intrigued and offers to help repair the fire-damaged book. In the meantime, a young doctor by the name of Murnau has arrived at the Chateau from the university to see if he can determine what ails Konrad. He is engrossed by Dr. Murnau’s laboratory of needles, flaks and a microscope with which he studies Konrad’s blood. Murnau realizes something is terribly wrong with Konrad. He tells the Frankensteins that after a few days of preparing the necessary treatment, he will slowly inject it into Konrad’s veins over the course of a week. In the meantime, the threesome begins gathering the necessary ingredients that Polidari needs to replicate the Elixir of Life.

Can Konrad’s life be saved? Will it be modern medicine or ancient alchemy? Is Polidori to be trusted? And what happens when a bitter love triangle is uncovered? Join young Victor Frankenstein on a life-altering quest to replicate the Elixir of Life in an attempt to save his twin brother’s life.

Check out Kenneth Oppel’s spine-chilling and climatic prequel to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. It might make you want to pick up the original story. Book two in the series, Such Wicked Intent is due out in August 2012.

Visit Kenneth Oppel’s website. Be sure to check out Victor Frankentein’s sketchbook.

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