This Dark Endeavor: The Apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein

Common Sense Media says

Gripping, fascinating story of one soon-to-be-mad scientist.





What parents need to know

Educational value

This book will definitely get kids interested in the classic Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. There's much talk about the difference between the taboo practice of alchemy and the not-so-advanced practice of medicine at this time (early 1800s). Specific alchemists are mentioned and some of the potions (most notably, the Elixir of Life), as well as medical remedies tried by doctors of the day (yes, leeches). Readers can even look up the fascinating history of the coelacanth fish and other Lazarus taxon.

Positive messages

The book jacket tagline reads "the purest intentions can stir up the darkest obsessions," giving a hint that nothing is clear-cut here. Self-sacrifice, fear of loss, sibling rivalry, ambition, and jealousy are all explored in depth.

Positive role models

Victor's cousin Elizabeth describes him as "rash, headstrong, and arrogant" and says she's afraid of his passion. He risks his life repeatedly for his twin brother Konrad but is also incredibly jealous of him. He steals kisses from Konrad's beau more than once but eventually apologizes to both. Elizabeth is a very strong female character for the day, going on all the same adventures with the boys. She's of her own mind, insisting on going to church every Sunday even when no one else in the household attends.


Two fingers are severed in a drawn-out scene followed by a scuffle with weapons. High suspense as characters climb a tall tree in pitch blackness and almost drown in an underground cave. Animals cause bloody injuries, one character bites an animal in the throat, and another character guts an animal to find something it swallowed. Mentions that teens watch the dissection of a hanged convict and a minor character loses the use of his legs after he's set upon by a drunken mob. A major character suffers from a prolonged illness and eventually dies.


Passionate kisses -- one stolen by Victor disguised as his twin in the dark. Elizabeth sleepwalks and ends up in Victor's bed, testing his self-control. A mention of "loose women" hanging around the docks.


"Ass," and a few mentions of "damn" and "hell."

Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Brandy and stronger stuff are taken both medicinally and in surgery. An alchemical potion stirs up some passionate feelings.

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?


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 the effect is one of the best series openers to come along in a long time.

Families can talk 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?

Book details

Author:Kenneth Oppel
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:Simon & Schuster
Publication date:August 23, 2011
Number of pages:304
Publisher's recommended age(s):12 - 17
Read aloud:12 - 17
Read alone:12 - 17

This review of This Dark Endeavor: The Apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein was written by

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