A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this imagined prequel to the classic Mary Shelley's Frankenstein shows Victor Frankenstein pre-mad scientist at the age of 15 with just a budding interest in alchemy. That doesn't mean this book is completely tame, however. Characters have brushes with death high in trees and deep in caves; are attacked, scratched, and bitten by animals; and there's one extremely tense scene where two fingers are severed. Plus, a prolonged illness of a major character eventually ends in death. Victor, of course, is growing as a conflicted character here, motivated by jealousy and ambition as often as he is by his love for his family. Elizabeth is a strong female character who is often even braver than the male characters.
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What's the story?
It's just another leisurely summer at the Frankenstein family country home for 15-year-old Victor, his twin Konrad, and their cousin Elizabeth. They put on plays by their friend Henry Clerval, are home-schooled by the twins' father, and enjoy well-bred sports like sailing and fencing. Running through the house one day they uncover a secret passage leading to an even more secretive library filled to the brim with forbidden alchemy texts. At first it's just curious fun, but when Konrad falls ill and the inept medical doctors start coming and going, Victor digs deeper in the library, determined to find something that will cure him. He also starts frequenting the home of the underground alchemist Polidori for help uncovering the secret ingredients of the Elixir of Life. He finds there's good news -- only three things to find -- and bad news -- acquiring all three puts him and those he loves in grave danger.
Is it any good?
This is one of the best series openers to come along in a long time; no wonder the makers of the Twilight movies have already latched onto this series. The world's most famous future mad scientist was a fascinating teen as author Kenneth Oppel sees it. Readers get to watch his inner demons take shape; there's hope for him, then it's dashed just as quickly. So much is bubbling below the surface waiting for that flash of lightning.
Add to this intense character study writing that's beautifully, darkly atmospheric and a truly gripping series of adventures (expect your jaw to visibly drop while reading in a few scenes), and you've got a winner.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about this series as a prequel to the classic Frankenstein. Does it make it more compelling that Victor is a known character? Can you think of other homages to the classics?
There's already talk on the author's website of the movie rights being sold -- to the same people responsible for the Twilight franchise. Does that make reading the series more appealing? Whom do you imagine in the roles of Victor and Elizabeth?
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