Review: This Dark Endeavor by Kenneth Oppel

This Dark EndeavorThis Dark Endeavor by Kenneth Oppel
Read: June 25 – June 30, 2013
Personal read.

Goodreads Book Blurb: Victor and Konrad are the twin brothers Frankenstein. They are nearly inseparable. Growing up, their lives are filled with imaginary adventures…until the day their adventures turn all too real. They stumble upon The Dark Library, and secret books of alchemy and ancient remedies are discovered. Father forbids that they ever enter the room again, but this only peaks Victor’s curiosity more. When Konrad falls gravely ill, Victor is not be satisfied with the various doctors his parents have called in to help. He is drawn back to The Dark Library where he uncovers an ancient formula for the Elixir of Life. Elizabeth, Henry, and Victor immediately set out to find assistance in a man who was once known for his alchemical works to help create the formula.

Determination and the unthinkable outcome of losing his brother spur Victor on in the quest for the three ingredients that will save Konrad’s life. After scaling the highest trees in the Strumwald, diving into the deepest lake caves, and sacrificing one’s own body part, the three fearless friends risk their lives to save another.

My Opinion: I should preface this by saying that I have not read Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. It is on my TBR pile, but it gets pushed down because of my minor fear of classics. I think it is safe to say that everyone knows the basics of the story, though. Except that Frankenstein was not the monster. But I digress.

I was really interested in this series when I saw the second book advertised. A young adult prequel to Frankenstein? I really liked Oppel’s Silverwing series when I was younger, so I thought I would give this a try, and requested it from my library.

Either I am not remembering Silverwing very clearly, Oppel’s writing has changed significantly, or I had much lower standards back then. While there was nothing glaringly horrible about This Dark Endeavor, neither was there anything that really grabbed me and made me love the book.

I really didn’t like how Victor and Konrad were written. I don’t have a twin, and I get annoyed with the way twins are portrayed in literature. It seems like there is always one good twin. There is always rivalry. There is always some super awesome twin-ness. Twins are normal people, and just once I would like to see them written that way!

Aside from the twin things, Victor was just a little too… off. I really don’t mind darker characters, and I know this is a setup for not only Oppel’s other works in the novel’s world, but also Mary Shelley’s character. Again, not having read the actual classic Frankenstein, I don’t know if Oppel’s Victor is anything like Mary Shelley’s.

The plot of This Dark Endeavor was predictable, and contained a love triangle (with cousins, which I think was just done for shock value) that had no real need to be there.

Bottom Line: This book did not grab me, nor did it inspire me to read the original Frankenstein. I will probably pass on the sequel.


Review: The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield (Spoiler Free)

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
Read: April 28 – May 11, 2012
Other Information: Owned book (gift), hardcover, 406 pages, Book Club selection

Book Blurb: My gripe is not with lovers of the truth but with truth herself. What succor, what consolation is there in truth, compared to a story? What good is truth, at midnight, in the dark, when the wind is roaring like a bear in the chimney? What you need are the plump comforts of a story. The soothing, rocking safety of a lie.
– Vida Winter

My Opinion: Books usually fall into two categories for me. There are the books that I devour, tearing through page after page in a mad dash to absorb as much of the story as possible. In the long run, these books offer little literary nutritional value, as I am always left ravenous, hungering for more. And then there are the books where I hold my literary nose to avoid the bad taste of the words, and I force myself to endure the book for the sake of literary knowledge. If I know what I don’t like, it will be easier to recognize something I do like. And when the time comes to write my own novel, I will be easier able to avoid that which has made me cringe in the past. Or, that is the theory anyways.

This book falls into a third category. I didn’t devour this book in a mad dash, always seeking the next page, the next chapter. And I definitely didn’t hold my nose to endure the story. No, this was a book that I savored. I found every morsel of the story to be absolutely delicious. And I am kind of upset I didn’t read it sooner.

I will start with what I didn’t like, because there isn’t much. Because this is a story about stories, and there are a lot of them, the narrative voice changes a lot. For me, this was really jarring. Going back and forth between first person and third person, and then having the person who was speaking in third person switch to first person… it took away from my overall enjoyment. It pulled me out of the story while I tried to figure out whose story we were focusing on.

The other thing I didn’t like was that the author seemed to approach a lot of things with a very vague hand. In some instances it helped to build the mystery, but in most it just confused me, especially when a detail was revealed or talked about in greater detail.

The writing was superb. I found the novel delightfully verbose in the best possible way. Not having read a lot of the “classics” (Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, etc.) I can’t make a comparison there, but I do know it read a lot like Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. I could quote this book for days.

He didn’t know, of course. Not really. And yet that was what he said, and I was soothed to hear it. For I knew what he meant. We all have our sorrows, and although the exact delineaments, weight and dimensions of grief are different for everyone, the color of grief is common to us all. “I know,” he said, because he was human, and therefore, in a way, he did.
– The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

With the exception of Miss Winter, I found all the characters who were meant to be well-developed to be just that. They were likeable, they made me feel for them. And Diane Setterfield created an unlikely character in the Angelfield house. Miss Winter kept a shroud of mystery around her through it all and I felt she was somewhat distanced from the reader. Even in telling her truth, her story, we don’t get to know HER.

The plot, I think, is exactly what it was meant to be. This is in no way a fast-paced action-packed mystery. It is a slower story with a build that leaves you seeking answers. So if you are after something that will set your pulse racing and your palms sweating, this is probably not the book for you. I didn’t feel compelled to read into the night, but I did think about the book an awful lot when I wasn’t reading it.

Bottom line: I loved this book. It is not an action-packed mystery, but more of a slow-to-build story that leads to a big reveal and a satisfying conclusion. If this author were to ever publish anything else, I would read it in a heartbeat.

My rating: 5 stars (Darn near perfect!)