Tragedy has forced sixteen-year-old Victor Frankenstein to swear off alchemy forever. He burns the Dark Library and vows he will never dabble in the dark sciences again, just as he vows he will no longer covet Elizabeth, his brother’s betrothed.
If only these things were not so tempting.
When he and Elizabeth discover a portal into the spirit world, they cannot resist. Together with Victor’s twin, Konrad, and their friend Henry, they venture into a place of infinite possibilities where power and passion reign. But as they search for the knowledge to raise the dead, they unknowingly unlock a darkness from which they may never return.
Note: As this is a sequel, details from the first book will be discussed in this review. I do not consider them spoilers, since the book has been out for over a year. However, if you have NOT read the first book, then they will be spoilers for you – read ahead at your risk!
I remember picking up the first book in this series, This Dark Endeavor with some reluctance, and then being completely sucked into the story. I couldn’t get over not only the quality of the writing (which is excellent), but also the dramatic pull the story had on me. I hand-sold that book like crazy to everyone I knew, and every student came back to me with a hunted look in their eyes, wanting more.
Luckily, we don’t have to wait any longer. Such Wicked Intent picks up three weeks after the end of the first book. Victor is still recovering from the loss of his fingers, and, more importantly [SPOILER FOR BOOK ONE] the loss of his brother. His mother is devastated by grief, and his father has banned all books and objects of the arcane from the house, ording them to be burned on a pyre in the courtyard. As the family, along with Elizabeth and Henry, struggle to come to terms with their loss, strange things continue to happen in Frankenstein manor. A mysterious tunnel appears beneath the Dark Library, leading to a cavern filled with drawings reminiscent of the cave paintings of Lascaux (and bonus points to Oppel for casually bringing the historically significant site so easily into the text). At first, everyone is excited by the paintings, until a darker and more sinister message begins to appear and strange noises begin to echo through the tunnels.
At the same time, Victor cannot let go of the idea that his brother is meant to return to them. He even attempts to use a spirit board in order to connect with him again, with mysterious results. After exploring the writings and secret passages of Wilhelm Frankenstein, Victor begins to realize that using his ancestor’s knowledge of the darker arts might help to bridge the gap between the living and the dead in order to enter the Spirit World. Drawing Elizabeth and Henry into his journey, Victor makes some shocking decisions and does some horrifying actions in order to see his brother again.
First off, it must be said that this is a much darker and more sinister book than the first. Where there was an element of quest about the TDE, SWI draws further from the well of the original story and the results are, frankly, spine-tingling. Oppel has become a master of taking a seemingly innocent view and twisting it into something terrifying, and he does so in many different ways during this course of this book. Victor and his friends do find a way to connect with Konrad again, and meet his companion, the mysterious Analiese. The place where Konrad resides is a copy of their home, yet they are the only two people there, along with some colourful butterflies (oh, the butterflies…). The joy the foursome feels in their reunion is overshadowed by the frightening nature of the place they inhabit, and it only gets darker as the story continues. Eventually, all the story threads join together into a chilling conclusion that will have you on the edge of your seat.
I’ve discussed this book with a few friends, and there are a couple of things that we noticed about the characters. First off is Victor Frankenstein – or, as my friend prefers to refer to him, “Victor Salvatore” in a nod to L.J. Smith’s “Vampire Diaries” character. Victor is truly unique, and may be my fictional crush of the summer. He’s obviously brilliant, cares deeply about his family, can be intensely selfish … and he knowingly makes insanely bad decisions while convincing his two friends to join him in the mayhem that results. He may have sworn off alchemy after the death of his brother, but both the reader and Victor know that his promise just won’t last – he’s too invested in learning more and getting what he wants to leave well enough alone. He knows what he is doing is wrong, and he should probably walk away … and then he does it anyway.
“All of you,” I say, “you have too much valor to hang back now! And we have nothing to fear.” I look at Henry and Elizabeth. “We’re the living! Light and heat pour off us. Nothing can harm us here! Trust me.” ~Victor Salvatore Frankenstein, Such Wicked Intent
Oppel has said in interviews that he has used aspects of Shelley, her husband and their friend Lord Byron in the characters, and Victor is classically Byronic in this book. You have to love a character that is confident enough to go for broke, and I couldn’t wait to see what he would do next.
We agreed that Elizabeth’s portrayal is very realistic in this second book. She is grieving the loss of her first love, and is confused by her feelings for his twin, while yearning to see Konrad again. Elizabeth is a smart girl, but she makes some crazy choices in the book, all in the name of love, and who among us hasn’t done that in our lifetime? Henry also comes into his own in this book, and becomes more of the Henry Clavel familiar to those of us who have read the original. He is a viable candidate for Elizabeth’s affections, and it will be interesting to see how Oppel deals with him in the third book. The friendship between the three friends has its ups and downs, and the parallels are as true to life in today’s high school as they are in the frighteningly creepy Frankenstein castle and Spirit World. After all, today’s high school is filled with all kinds of monsters and mysterious events, and many are of our own making.
“…[T]his is one of the great things about the Frankenstein myth. It’s not about some one-dimensional monster or super villain who’s evil just for the sake of it – it’s about how a man is driven to monstrous deeds through ambition, and arrogance and cowardice. So, yes, Frankenstein involves monsters, but the real monster is always human, and it’s always us.”
~ Kenneth Oppel, in an interview with the Toronto Public Library that can be found here.
Without giving any spoilers, I loved how aspects of the original story and of Mary Shelley’s life were woven into the narrative of the first book, and they are even more present in SWI. As Victor heads further down the dark path, Oppel is laying the groundwork for his greatest act, intertwining aspects of the original into the plot seamlessly. I can easily say that this book, without question, will make my Top Ten for the year. This is a smart, scary – nay, terrifying – and gripping read that you won’t want to put down until you’re done, and I cannot wait for book three (Kenneth, are you listening?).
There is one completely inconsequential benefit to this series, but something that amuses me greatly. This series has sparked a great interest in the original Frankenstein story, and I’ll admit to taking a perverse satisfaction in knowing that we will have a goodly number of students who will enter high school and university, knowing that Frankenstein is, in fact, the doctor and not the name of the monster! <cough– classic book nerd – cough>
A copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. It can be purchased from Indigo, Amazon and your friendly independent bookstore. Such Wicked Intent is published in Canada by HarperCollins Canada – http://www.harpercollins.ca/.