This Dark Endeavor

The Apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein

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About The Book

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 Konrads 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.

Excerpt

CHAPTER ONE
MONSTER


WE FOUND THE MONSTER ON A ROCKY LEDGE HIGH ABOVE the lake. For three dark days my brother and I had tracked it through the maze of caves to its lair on the mountain’s summit. And now we beheld it, curled atop its treasure, its pale fur and scales ablaze with moonlight.

It knew we were there. Doubtless it had smelled us coming, its flared nostrils drinking in our sweat and fear. Its crested head lifted slightly, almost lazily. Coins and jewels clinked and shifted as its body began to uncoil.

“Kill it!” I roared. My sword was in my hand, and my brother was at my side, his own blade flashing.

The speed with which the beast struck was incomprehensible. I tried to throw myself clear, but its muscular neck crashed against my right arm, and I felt the arm break and dangle uselessly at my side. But my sword hand was my left, and with a bellow of pain I slashed at the monster’s chest, my blade deflecting off its mighty ribs.

I was aware of my brother striking at the beast’s lower regions, all the while trying to avoid its lashing barbed tail. The monster came at me again, jaws agape. I battered its head, trying to stab its mouth or eyes, but it was as quick as a cobra. It knocked me sprawling to the stone, so that I was perilously close to the precipice’s edge. The monster reared back, ready to strike, and then it shrieked in pain, for my brother had severed one of its hind legs.

But still the monster faced only me—as if I were its sole adversary.

I pushed myself up with my good hand. Before the monster could strike, I hurled myself at it. This time my sword plunged deep into its chest, so deep I could scarcely wrench it out. A ribbon of dark fluid unfurled in the moonlight, and the monster reared to its full height, terrible to behold, and then crumpled.

Its head shattered on the ground, and there, among the bloodied fur and cracked crest, was the face of a beautiful girl.

My brother came to my side, and together we gazed at her, marveling.

“We’ve broken the curse,” he said to me. “We have saved the town. And we have released her.”

The girl’s eyes opened, and she looked from my brother to me. I knew she didn’t have long to live, and a question burned inside me. I knelt.

“Why?” I asked her. “Why was it only me you attacked?”

“Because it is you,” she whispered, “who is the real monster.”

And with that, she died, leaving me more shaken than I could describe. I staggered back. My brother could not have heard her words—they were spoken so softly—and when he asked me what she’d said, I shook my head.

“Your arm,” he said with concern, steadying me.

“It will heal.” I turned my gaze to the pile of treasure.

“We have more than can ever be spent,” my brother murmured.

I looked at him. “The treasure is mine alone.”

He stared back in astonishment, this brother of mine who looked so much like me, we might have been the same person. And indeed we were, for we were identical twins.

“What do you mean?” he said.

I lifted my sword, put the tip against his throat, and forced him, step by step, toward the edge of the precipice.

“Why should we not share this,” he demanded, “as we’ve shared everything else equally?”

I laughed then, at the lie of it. “No twins are ever completely equal,” I said. “Though we’re of one body, we are not equal, Brother, for you were born the sooner by two minutes. Even in our mother’s womb you stole from me. The family birthright is yours. And such a treasure that is, to make this one look like a pauper’s pittance. But I want it, all of it. And I shall have it.”

At that moment the monster stirred, and in alarm I turned—only to see it making its final death contraction. But in that same instant my brother drew his sword.

“You will not cheat me!” he shouted.

Back and forth across the ledge we fought. We were both strong, with broad shoulders and taut muscles that thrived on exertion. But my brother had always been the better swordsman, and with my broken arm I was even more disadvantaged. But my cold serpent’s resolve was strong, and before long I had smacked the sword from his hand and forced him to his knees. Even as he stared at me with my own face, and pleaded with me in my own voice, I plunged the sword into his heart and stole his life.

I gave a sigh of utter relief and looked up at the moon, felt the cool May air caress my face.

“Now I shall have all the riches in the world,” I said. “And I am, at last, alone.”

For a moment there was only the shushing of the breeze from the glacial lake—and then applause burst forth.

Standing on the broad balcony, I turned to face the audience, which had been watching us from their rows of chairs just inside the ballroom. There was Mother and Father, and their friends, their delighted faces bathed in candlelight.

My brother Konrad sprang to his feet, and together we ran back to the crumpled monster and helped our cousin emerge from her costume. Her luxuriant amber hair spilled free, and her olive complexion glowed in the torchlight. The applause grew louder still. The three of us joined hands and took a bow.

“Henry!” I called. “Join us!” We all three of us waved him out. Reluctantly our best friend, a tall blond wisp of a fellow, emerged from his lurking spot near the French doors. “Ladies and gentleman,” I announced to the audience. “Henry Clerval, our illustrious playwright!”

“Bravo!” cried my father, and his praise was echoed round the room.

“Elizabeth Lavenza as the monster, ladies and gentlemen,” said Konrad with a flourish. Our cousin made a very pretty curtsy. “My name is Konrad. And this”—he looked at me with a mischievous grin—“is the hero of our tale, my evil twin, Victor!”

And now everyone was rising to their feet, to give us a standing ovation.

The applause was intoxicating. Impulsively I jumped up onto the stone balustrade to take another bow, and reached out my hand for Konrad to join me.

“Victor!” I heard my mother call. “Come down from there at once!”

I ignored her. The balustrade was broad and strong, and, after all, it was hardly the first time I had stood on top of it. But I had always done so secretly, for the drop was considerable: fifty feet to the shore of Lake Geneva.

Konrad took my hand, but instead of yielding to my pull he exerted his own, and tried to bring me down. “You’re worrying Mother,” he whispered.

As if Konrad hadn’t played on the balustrade himself!

“Oh, come on,” I said. “Just one bow!”

Our hands were still joined, and I felt his grip tighten, intent on bringing me back to the balcony. And I was suddenly angry at him for being so sensible, for not sharing my joy at the applause—for making me feel like a childish prima donna.

I jerked my hand free, but too fast and too forcefully.

I felt my balance shift. Already weighed down by my heavy cape, I had to take a step backward. Except there was nowhere to step. There was nothing, and suddenly my arms were windmilling. I tried to throw myself forward, but it was all too late, much too late.

I fell. Half turned, I saw the black mountains, and the blacker lake, and directly below me the rocky shore—and my death, rushing up to meet me.

Down I fell toward the jagged shallows.

But I never reached it, for I landed hard upon the narrow roof of a bow window on the château’s lower floor. Pain shrieked from my left foot as I collapsed and then rolled—and my body began to slide over the edge, legs first. My hands scrabbled, but there was nothing to grasp, and I was powerless to stop myself. My hips went over, then chest and head—but at the roof’s very edge was a lip of stone, and it was here that my frenzied hands finally found purchase.

I dangled. With my feet I kicked at the window, but its leaded panes were very strong. Even if I could’ve cracked the glass, I doubted I could swing myself inside from such a position.

More important, I knew I could not hold on for very long.

With all my might I tried to pull myself back up. My head crested the roof, and I managed to hook my chin over the lip of stone. My flexed arms trembled with fatigue, and I could do no more.

Directly above me came a great clamor, and I glimpsed a throng of people peering over the balustrade, their faces ghastly in the torchlight. I saw Elizabeth and Henry, my mother and father—but it was Konrad onto whom my gaze locked. Around one of the balustrade’s posts, he had tied his cloak, so that it hung down like a rope. And then I heard my mother’s shrieks of protest, and my father’s angry shouts, as Konrad swung himself over the top of the balustrade. He grabbed hold of the cloak, and half climbed, half slid, down to its very end.

Even as the strength ebbed from my arms and hands, I watched, enthralled. Konrad’s legs still dangled some six feet from my little roof, and his landing spot was not generous. He glanced down, and let go. He hit the roof standing, teetered off balance—to the gasps of all the onlookers—and then crouched, low and steady.

“Konrad,” I wheezed. I knew I had only seconds left before my muscles failed and my fingers unlocked. He reached out for me.

“No!” I grunted. “I’ll pull you off!”

“Do you wish to die?” he shouted, making to grab my wrists.

“Sit down!” I told him. “Back against the wall. There’s a stone ledge. Brace your feet against it!”

He did as I instructed, then reached for my hands with both of his. I did not know how this could work, for we weighed the same, and gravity was against us.

And yet . . . and yet . . . with our hands grasping the other’s wrists, his legs pushing against the stone ledge, he pulled with all his strength—and then something more still—and lifted me up and over the roof’s edge. I collapsed on top of my twin brother. I was shaking and crying and laughing all at once.

“You fool,” he gasped. “You great fool. You almost died.”

© 2011 Firewing Productions

Reading Group Guide

A Reading Group Guide to 

This Dark Endeavor
 

by Kenneth Oppel

About the Book

In this prequel to Mary Shelley’s gothic classic, Frankenstein, fifteen-year-old Victor Frankenstein begins a dark journey that will change his life forever. Victor’s twin, Konrad, falls ill, and no doctor is able to cure him. Unwilling to give up on his brother, Victor enlists his beautiful cousin, Elizabeth, and his best friend, Henry, on a treacherous search for the ingredients to create the forbidden Elixir of Life. Impossible odds, dangerous alchemy, and a bitter love triangle threaten their quest at every turn. Victor knows he cannot fail. But his success depends on how far he is willing to push the boundaries of nature, science, and love—and how much he is willing to sacrifice.

Prereading Activities

There are names and terms cited in the story that will likely be unfamiliar to most readers. Ask readers to use reference books or electronic research sources to find out as much information as they can about the following: Cornelius Agrippa, alabaster, alchemy, apothecary, Aramaic, Archidoxes of Magic, augury, brazier, cadaverous, cauterize, clairvoyance, codex, divination, gossamer, malodorous, Methuselah, pallor, palpable, Paracelsus, paragon, passata-sotto, pianoforte, Sanskrit, Sturm und Drang, tryst, unguent, and viscera.

Most readers will likely not have read Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein but will be familiar with some aspect of the story through films based upon the novel or popular culture references. Ask readers what they know about the Frankenstein story. Following that discussion, explain to readers the outline of Shelley’s Frankenstein and how she came to write the novel.

Use an atlas to show readers the location of Switzerland and Geneva.

Discussion Questions

What mood is established in the first chapter?

How did Elizabeth come to live with the Frankenstein family? How did she behave “like a feral cat” when she came to live with them? 

In what country and where in that country do the Frankensteins live?

What kind of home is Château Frankenstein?

Why do you think the door to the library has such an elaborate lock?

Who built the Biblioteka Obscura and what was his vocation?

What opinion does Victor’s father have of the books in the Biblioteka Obscura?

What does Victor mean when he describes his home as “a most peculiar one”? 

What is the terrible situation in France that Victor’s father talks about?

Who is Henry Clerval?

Why do you think learning Greek and Latin is such an important part of the Frankensteins’ education?

In what way does Victor wish he was more like Konrad?

What does Victor see in his future?

What feelings are sparked in Victor when Konrad becomes ill? What accounts for Victor becoming ill?

Why does Victor consider Konrad “the brighter star in our family's constellation”?

How does Dr. Bartonne treat Konrad’s illness?

What do you think is the meaning of Victor’s dream about his father’s library?

Why does Victor want to return to the Dark Library?

What does Victor notice about Wilhelm Frankenstein’s portrait?

What is the significance of the name of the street on which Julius Polidori lives, Wollstonekraft Alley?

What is Victor’s first impression of Polidori?

What does Polidori tell Victor about the Occulta Philosophia?

Why does Polidori say he owes his life to Victor’s father?

What is odd about Polidori’s pet, Krake?

Why does Victor consider Dr. Murnau’s methods ghoulish?

What is Dr. Murnau’s theory about Konrad’s illness?

What does Victor notice about Elizabeth when he sees her dressed in his clothes?

What does Elizabeth do to the vulture that shocks Victor? What does seeing “the savage expression on her face” make Victor want to do? 

How does Konrad respond to Dr. Murnau’s treatments?

Why does Victor want to keep his identity secret from Polidori?

Why does Victor feel betrayed when he realizes that Konrad and Elizabeth are in love?

Why is the lynx known as “Keeper of the Secrets of the Forest”?

What does Polidori say is needed from the coelacanth for the elixir?

What does Victor “steal” from Elizabeth? How does he learn that Elizabeth knows of his deception?

Why does Elizabeth not tell Konrad of Victor’s deception?

When Victor asks Elizabeth why she fell in love Konrad and not him, what is her explanation? What does she tell Victor that scares her about him?

What is the secret Victor will keep from Konrad?

What subject do Konrad and Elizabeth bring up that embarrasses Victor?

What happens when their father learns they have been working alchemy?

How might the dream Victor has of Konrad dead be considered foreshadowing?

What does Victor discover about his father? What is his reaction?

Why does Victor decide not to use alchemy to win over Elizabeth?

What does Konrad tell Victor is his problem? What does he say Victor must accept?

What does Victor learn from his father about his work in alchemy?

Elizabeth questions Victor’s motive for wanting to save Konrad, believing that it may be more for his own glorification. Do you think Victor is motivated to save him out of self-interest?

What sacrifice does Victor make for the elixir?

What does Henry reveal about Polidori? What is the reason for Polidori’s deceit?

What does Polidori reveal about the marrow for the elixir? Why didn’t Polidori make two doses?

What does Victor consider doing with the elixir?

What do the authorities find at Polidori’s apartment?

What does Dr. Murnau do about the elixir?

When Victor calls the recovering Konrad his “creation,” how is it another example of foreshadowing? 

Elizabeth is upset that her face will be left scarred from the lynx. Why does Victor find her “all the more desirable for it”?

When Konrad dies in his sleep, Victor wonders if the elixir failed or if Konrad had been ill too long for it to help him. What do you think is the reason? Should Victor blame himself for Konrad’s death?

What is significant about how Konrad’s body is interred?

Victor promises himself that he will see his brother alive again. Do you think Victor will be able to bring Victor back from the dead? How do you think he might go about finding a way to do that?

Post-Reading Activities

Have readers write an opening chapter for a sequel to This Dark Endeavor.

Ask readers to create a storyboard of a favorite chapter or scene from the novel. 

In the novel there are two references to the French Revolution. Victor’s father and Schultz discuss the terrible situation in France and the terror the mobs are spreading. (p. 25) Victor notes that France is in the “utmost turmoil.” “The king and queen had been beheaded, and mobs of revolutionaries roved the land in a reign of terror, persecuting any who might disagree with them.” (p. 226) Ask students to work in pairs and use print and electronic resources to learn more about the French Revolution. When they have completed their research, have them share their findings.

One of the three ingredients for the Elixir of Life is oil from a coelacanth. Considered extinct for millions of years until it was found by fisherman to still exist, the coelacanth is considered a “living fossil.” Have readers use print and electronic resources to research further information about the coelacanth. Two excellent books are Fossil Fish Found Alive: Discovering the Coelacanth by Sally M. Walker (Carolrhoda, 2002) and A Fish Caught in Time: The Search for the Coelacanth by Samantha Weinberg (Harper, 2000). A good Internet resource is www.dinofish.com.

Read Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and discuss what parallels there are between the novel and This Dark Endeavor.

About the Author

Kenneth Oppel is the author of numerous books for young readers. His award-winning Silverwing trilogy has sold more than a million copies worldwide and has been adapted into an animated TV series and stage play. Airborn was a Michael L. Printz Award Honor Book and won the Canadian Governor General’s Literary Award for children’s literature; its sequel, Skybreaker, was a New York Times bestseller and was named Children’s Novel of the Year in 2005 by the London Times. His most recent book is Half Brother. He lives in Toronto with his wife and children. You visit him at http://www.kennethoppel.ca/.

This guide has been provided by Simon & Schuster for classroom, library, and reading group use. It may be reproduced in its entirety or excerpted for these purposes.

This guide was written by Edward T. Sullivan, a librarian and writer.

About The Author

Photograph © Jim Gillett

Kenneth Oppel is the author of numerous books for young readers. His award-winning Silverwing trilogy has sold over a million copies worldwide and been adapted as an animated TV series and stage play. Airborn won a Michael L. Printz Honor Book Award and the Canadian Governor General’s Literary Award for children’s literature; its sequel, Skybreaker, was a New York Times bestseller and was named Children’s Novel of the Year by the London Times. He is also the author of Half Brother, This Dark Endeavor, Such Wicked Intent, and The Boundless. Born on Canada’s Vancouver Island, he has lived in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, Canada; in England and Ireland; and now resides in Toronto with his wife and children. Visit him at KennethOppel.ca.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers (August 2011)
  • Length: 304 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781442403154
  • Grades: 7 and up
  • Ages: 12 - 99

Raves and Reviews

“Oppel has reinvented the gothic thriller for modern readers. The narrative crackles with tension, emotions run high, and the atmosphere is perfectly dark and brooding. The Shelleys would be proud. I definitely recommend you check out the book when it's published August 23. I anticipate This Dark Endeavor will get a lot of attention, and rightly so."--Rick Riordan

"Oppel’s novel is a gripping tale of undying devotion, mixing hope with foreboding."—The Horn Book in a STARRED review

“Oppel’s tale is melodramatic, exciting, disquieting…a delicious mix.”—Publisher’s Weekly in a STARRED review

"Brash, jealous, and arrogant, Victor is sweet relief from today’s introspective YA protagonists, and one can easily visualize how this teen becomes the mad genius of Shelley’s Frankenstein."--Booklist

"Oppel grapples with the human duality of animal and soul in ways that recall (but don’t repeat) Shelley’s similar thematic explorations as he revitalizes the classic horror tale for a new generation."--Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, STARRED review

This Dark Endeavor may renew interest in Frankenstein, but it also stands alone as an original and welcome addition to the world of young-adult fiction.”—Kelley Armstrong, author of the Darkest Power series

"A dark and dramatic back story for Shelley’s tormented creator."--Kirkus Reviews

"Sharp readers will find allusions to Mary Shelley, her literary circle, and classic horror films; for those simply wanting a good story with plenty of action, this book will not disappoint."--School Library Journal

"The action and suspense begin on page one and let up very little in this excellent work of gothic science fiction."--VOYA

“Adventures do not come more thrilling, gorgeously written or absorbing than this.”

The London Times

A London Times Best Children's Book of 2011:

"Kenneth Oppel's This Dark Endeavour is a captivating Gothic novel.... Books this good are for life, not just Christmas."

"This Dark Endeavour by Kenneth Oppel...is a brilliantly layered exploration of what made Victor Frankenstein the man he became.... Victor’s struggle to pit fraternal love against his baser emotions, particularly his animal attraction to their cousin Elizabeth, who loves Konrad, gives a compelling psychological edge to this richly imagined Gothic thriller.--The Telegraph

"Adventures do not come more thrilling, gorgeously written or absorbing than this."--London Times

Awards and Honors

  • Bank Street Best Books of the Year
  • Maine Student Book Award Master List
  • ALA Quick Picks Nominee
  • Texas Tayshas Reading List
  • ALA/YALSA Readers/ Choice
  • ALA/YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults - Top Ten
  • Bram Stoker Award Finalist
  • MN Thumbs Up! Award Finalist
  • ALA/YALSA Teens' Top Ten - NOMINEE

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