Sunday, September 30, 2012

Book Spotlight: The Apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein Series by Kenneth Oppel


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Good Evening, Beardies,

Call me indecisive if you will, but making “Best of the Best” lists is my own personal brand of librarian kryptonite. I just can’t decide! Usually, the best book I’ve read this year is the one I’m reading right now. So, instead of making my own list, most of the time I read the books that are on everyone else’s lists. This Dark Endeavor, the first book of Kenneth Oppel’s The Apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein Series, was on a 2011 list from one of my librarian idols, Lynn Rutan. Along with colleague Cindy Dobrez, Lynn writes a blog called Bookends that I follow religiously. She called This Dark Endeavor “a steampunky Frankenstein retelling,” and from that description alone, I was hooked. Everything Lynn promised, the book delivered, and when the second book came out in August, the series skyrocketed to the top of my “Books to Spotlight” pile.


   

The Premise:
Sixteen-year-old Victor Frankenstein lives the typical life of a young gentleman of privilege in eighteenth-century Geneva. Victor idolizes his twin brother, Konrad, and the two are virtually inseparable. One day, exploring in Chateau Frankenstein with their cousin Elizabeth and best friend, Henry Clerval, they discover a secret room filled with arcane tomes—the Dark Library that once belonged to their ancestor Wilhelm Frankenstein. Victor is intrigued by the contents of the Dark Library, but his father makes him promise never to return there. Then, Konrad becomes gravely ill, and even the best physicians in Europe seem unable to help him. Heartsick and desperate, Victor returns to the Dark Library in search of a cure, embarking on a quest to brew the Elixir of Life and save his beloved brother from certain death.

{DISCLAIMER: Normally, when doing a Spotlight on a series, I would include the premise of the second book, too, but doing so would spoil the ending of the first.  You'll just have to read it for yourself.}

Gems for Writers:
Classic Inspiration. The retelling of archetypal and classic stories is currently one of the most popular trends in young adult publishing. While retelling is one of my favorite literary techniques, I always approach these books with some wariness because so much can go so very wrong. Kenneth Oppel does everything right in his reimagining of the classic story of Frankenstein. All the hallmarks and the spirit of the original story are present, but the retelling breathes new life into the classic. The portrayal of Frankenstein as a teenager makes the old story accessible to a new generation, and hopefully, more readers will discover the original through the retelling.

Food for Thought. One of the things I love about retellings is how they make me think about familiar material in new ways. Although I am quite familiar with the story of Frankenstein, this is the first time that I’ve really connected with the protagonist. When it comes to saving a loved one, how far is too far? Is it ever okay for humans to play God? These are just a few of the questions with which the teenage Frankenstein grapples, and somehow, by putting them into the mind of a teenager, Kenneth Oppel made them resonate with me even more deeply. There are, of course, no easy answers for either Frankenstein or the reader, so the book continues to echo long after the last page.

Characterization. As stated, though this was far from my first exposure to the story of Frankenstein, it was the first time I have been truly able to connect with the protagonist. This connection is, in part, due to Oppel’s outstanding characterization, which humanizes the protagonist. The teenage Victor Frankenstein has a brash, larger-than-life personality. His emotions run deep, particularly his love of his twin brother, and though he sometimes makes the wrong decisions, he always does so for the right reasons. Based on past experience, I never expected to love this character, but I found myself viewing him as a much-loved but highly-exasperating younger sibling, wanting to strangle him one moment and loving him to pieces the next.

Rating:

Conclusion:
In The Apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein Series, Kenneth Oppel tackles an old subject in a new way, portraying a familiar protagonist in a new light and leaving the reader with many lasting questions. This portrayal makes a classic accessible to a whole new generation. The first two books of this planned series are a treat for speculative readers and I can’t wait for the next installment.

Happy Reading and Happy Scribing!










***This Dark Endeavor (2011) and Such Wicked Intent (2012) by Kenneth Oppel are published by and copyright Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers. They are available in stores, online, and from your local public library.
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