August 30, 2012

Such Wicked Intent: The Apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein, Book Two

by Kenneth Oppel
HarperCollins Canada
310 pp.
Released August 28, 2012

Wicked.  Intense.  Dark.  A dash of sweetness. 

It could be dark chocolate I'm describing but it's Such Wicked Intent, the sequel to This Dark Endeavour, Kenneth Oppel's first book in The Apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein series.  Just like a good dark chocolate, Such Wicked Intent is a treat that should be savoured slowly, with pauses to contemplate the richness of the experience, even smoother than its predecessor.

In This Dark Endeavour (reviewed here on October 5, 2011), teen Victor Frankenstein pursues an alchemical cure for his deathly-ill twin brother, Konrad.  Following the tomes in the Dark Library of his ancestor Wilhelm Frankenstein, Victor sacrifices much, including two of his own fingers, to save his brother, sadly unsuccessfully.

Such Wicked Intent begins just three weeks after Konrad's death, with Victor's father destroying the Dark Library.  First the books are burned and then the structure itself dismantled, with two significant finds revealed.  Below the former Dark Library, workers discover caves with primitive art etched in the walls.  Perhaps more significant is Victor's discovery of a book-like metal box amongst the burnt books.  Within the box, a pendant and materials and instructions for building a Spirit Board for communicating with the dead capture Victor's attention.

With the help of Elizabeth, Konrad's love, and their friend Henry Percival, Victor unearths an elixir, spirit clock and directions for visiting the spirit world.  Victor is delighted to find Konrad, still in his funeral clothes, as well as another spirit, Analiese, a former servant at the chateau.  Awaiting their "gathering" by the brilliant light, Konrad and Analiese endure the terrorizing thumps and groans heard within the chateau, and the swirling mist outside that Analiese believes is an evil entity.  Sadly, seeing his brother and Elizabeth is almost unbearable for Konrad, as they emit blinding light and heat.  On the other hand, Victor finds that being on the other side leaves him empowered, energized and even pain-free. Victor is determined to deliver Konrad back to the world of the living.

And so begin the psychological and moral debates within and between the characters.  Should Konrad be allowed to remain in a kind of purgatory, waiting for the angels, or returned to his family and Elizabeth?  Should Victor pursue Elizabeth though he has vowed not to covet what was his brother's?  How can Elizabeth justify her visits to Konrad with her religious convictions?  What of the jealousies Victor, Elizabeth and even Henry seem to be experiencing?  Most importantly, are they playing God in recreating life and returning Konrad from the dead?

Victor may feel guilt due to his jealousy of Konrad and this may be colouring his actions, including attempting to save Konrad's life and now retrieving him.  But, Victor cannot resolve what he wants to do with what he feels he should want to do.  He is passionate about unlocking the secrets of the universe, especially those contrary to the laws of nature. But this passion, almost a compulsion, torments him when balanced against his family: his father who has asked Victor to cease his unnatural investigations; his mother debilitated with grief; his young brothers who love him; and Elizabeth who is contemplating entering the convent.  How can he ensure his decisions are just? And does it matter if they aren't?

Kenneth Oppel takes the turmoil of Victor's position, as the twin of a more highly admired brother to whom Victor feels disloyal, and embeds it in the darkness of the unknown afterlife and sorcery.  Embroiled in a shifting matrix of grief, lust, affection and faith, Victor's intents, as well as those of the others, seem to shift in response, vacillating between selfish and compassionate.  The Frankenstein madness of Mary Shelley may be growing in Victor but the elaborate veneer of creativity and ancestry may keep it from erupting. Only Kenneth Oppel's imagination and foresight will determine the full extent of Victor's apprenticeship. 

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Uploaded by HarperCollins Canada to coincide with the release of Such Wicked Intent on August 28th, the book trailer can be viewed at CanLit for LittleCanadians: BookTtrailers here.

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