I read Frankenstein in college and because Frankenstein is so immersed in our pop culture and is practically a staple to anything Halloween, which I love, I was very excited about this book: This Dark Endeavor: The Apprenticeship Of Victor Frankenstein. There are a lot of things I’ve realized from reading this book that I didn’t catch or remember in the original.
The basic idea of it and the books that follow after is that it’s pre-Frankenstein for Victor Frankenstein. It’s about him becoming the villain (in my opinion) that is within Frankenstein. We meet Victor Frankenstein as a teenager in a very blatant albeit somewhat confusing foreshadowing of the rest of the book/probably series and Victor’s future. It took me a while to gather what was going on because in Kenneth Oppel’s tale Victor has a twin who looks exactly like him. And the opening of this dark tale is a play that they are performing in front of an audience.
Opposite of Victor is Konrad, who looks exactly like Victor but is filled with charm and love and care for the world. While Victor balks at their Sunday traditions of cooking for their servants Konrad seems to relish it, knowing all about each of their servants, their names as well as their families and lives.
They also have two little brothers, the eldest of which is staunchly fonder of Konrad while the younger seems to enjoy Victor’s presence. They are usually not a part of the story but more of a background feature.
These two Frankenstein brothers live in a large house outside of the city in Switzerland with their parents who teach them, their best friend Henry and their distant cousin Elizabeth. The four of them seem to be great friends with a bubbling of competitiveness, pride, and greed within Victor. Elizabeth was raised, partially in a nunnery after her father abandoned her and is still religious, unlike the rest of the family which are written as progressive atheists. Every Sunday morning Konrad drives Elizabeth to church and even has begun attending with her rather than waiting outside.
Then after finding a secret library in the depth of the house while exploring which is full of banned books on witchcraft and alchemy (and being barred from entering it again by their Father) Konrad falls ill.
Determined to save him Victor, Elizabeth, and Henry return to the library to try and find a cure and end up enlisting the help of an alchemist who’s fallen on hard times.
The idea of the novel is interesting, although it was a bit slow for me. I have a hard time getting into books where I don’t like the characters though I still persevere through stubbornness. But the main character of this tale is, of course, Victor who is destined to become the arrogant adult from Frankenstein. All the seeds of his awful personality are there and because it’s a close point of view the reader is subjected to his jealousy and pride and his hateful and hurtful thoughts.
Now, this is the part that I forgot and looked over in Frankenstein and forgot about from when I read it. I forgot about Elizabeth and Henry. In Frankenstein Henry his best friend even in adulthood and Elizabeth, who is his cousin and whom in the book he’s expected to marry despite being related. And who he does marry.
It’s that subplot, the romantic triangle of the book that makes me uncomfortable. Every boy in the book: Konrad, Henry, and Victor are in love with Elizabeth. Though it seems due to a lack of any other socialization and her being the only girl their age in the novel. Henry who in this tale is a sweet friend who’s scared of almost everything but highly imaginative and a poet chooses to just love her from a distance with an understanding they will never be. He likens it to a moth (Henry) being in love with a flame (Elizabeth). Konrad fell in love with Elizabeth while taking her to church every weekend and she returns his affection and is excited at the prospect of their future marriage.
Victor, however, while on his first of three missions to try and save Konrad realizes that he feels a “wolf-like heat attraction” towards Elizabeth and after seeing her in pants and a shirt rather than her dresses and thus realizing physically she’s not just one of the boys anymore. (a cliché I hate) And slowly he comes to terms after realizing his brother is in love with her that he is as well. He feels like he sees who she actually is, which is a fiery somewhat feral young woman. He thinks his brother sees her as a lady and Victor is very adamant she is anything but a lady just that she can wear the mask of one. So essentially both brothers are in love with her for a different side that they believe to be all of who she is.
This subplot, even if it becomes a reality in Frankenstein made it hard for me to get through the book. It made me uncomfortable how much Victor reminded the reader that Elizabeth was treated like their sister, raised like their sister, and how she called both Mr. and Mrs. Frankenstein Mother and Father. But what bothered me the absolute most was Victor feeling like because he thought he saw Elizabeth clearly he was owed her returned affection. He was the last to realize his feelings for her and rather than try and woo her or when he realized she was in love with his brother and to step aside, he instead doubled down in trickery and deceit to try and take some of her affection for himself. He pretended to be his brother to steal a kiss and when he got upset realizing he stole the kiss from his brother and that it wasn’t meant for him instead of coming clean or apologizing he instead bites her. He constantly tells her that she must love him more, at least subconsciously, and refuses to listen to her and even tells her he’d rather no affection from her even sisterly if he can’t have her romantic love. And I’m not okay with that. He continued to essentially try to wear her down, didn’t listen to her, tricked her and tried to make her love him and I am not a fan of this. Nothing he does is okay. And I get that in Frankenstein they get together but the way it started is one of those reasons why I can’t get into Game of Thrones. Coercion on a romantic front and/or assault quickly tank my enjoyment of a story.
I did think it was an interesting idea though. of how to set up Victor to become the Victor Frankenstein we know in Mary Shelley’s masterpiece. It’s interesting to see the characters from a mostly different angle with the space of a novel or two to try and show character development. I just think I’m the type of person who likes to watch a slow descent into an anti-hero/villain or to relate and get where they’re coming from. But it seems no matter what story stars Victor Frankenstein, I’m just not a fan.
The part of the book that piqued my interest was that it gave motivation to Victor Frankenstein albeit it felt a little tacked on and could’ve possibly been drawn out into the next volume. The death of his twin brother due to possibly his own failures sent a spark in him to challenge the laws of nature, man, science, and alchemy to bring him back. And that is a fascinating idea to me. That the eventual “monster” might be his twin brother twisted beyond recognition or as a test run before bringing his brother back.
I also don’t like that despite his cruelty towards Elizabeth it seems that through the default of Konrad dying and him sacrificing part of himself for his brother he won her affection. Or at least it hints that. I feel like he shouldn’t have been rewarded for his behavior and should’ve had to work for that through some sort of redemption in the next volume. Or there should’ve been consequences for his actions.
Do you enjoy prequels/sequels to old classics?
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