Book Review: Such Wicked Intent / Author: Kenneth Oppel / Publisher: David Fickling Books / Release Date: Out Now
Young Victor Frankenstein takes a trip into Twilight territory in this sequel to Kenneth Oppel's This Dark Endeavour and second prequel to Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. With his beloved twin dead, Victor once again ventures into his magical toy box, hoping to resurrect poor deceased Konrad. Spoiler: it doesn't end well.
The Twilight comparison is perhaps a tad facetious, since Such Wicked Intent is well-written, intelligent and atmospheric. To be sure, there's a love triangle at its centre (the love of Victor's life is still smitten with his brother) but Victor's obsession with mastering the dark arts trump his love for poor, doomed Elizabeth (not a spoiler: Frankenstein is hundreds of years old) every time. His growing arrogance makes his love for Elizabeth seem second to his love of himself every time.
It isn't essential to have read the previous book in the series (or Shelley's classic) but it will enhance the series. The first chapter recaps events from the first book in a terribly unsubtle but helpful manner, ensuring that newcomers will be able to jump into the story easily enough. Victor's twin brother is dead. His lover, Elizabeth, is so crippled by grief that she threatens to join a nunnery (the phrase “get thee to a nunnery” is actually used). Victor is missing three fingers and traumatised by a terrible experience caused by his flirtation with the Dark Arts. One book survives his purge (not the Necronomicon): a tome which tells him how to enter the spirit world and ultimately resurrect his dead brother. Since that same brother isn't in Frankenstein, we can assume that it doesn't go well. In a surprising touch, the action takes a turn for the Lovecraftian towards the end - this emphasis on supernatural over science makes the story less interesting than Shelley's Promethean myth retold (it makes Victor's achievements less impressive to say that “magic did it”) but is effective nevertheless.
Oppel's prequel crafts a gripping story which, while not essential reading by any means, will hopefully bring Frankenstein to a whole new audience. It will probably be more enjoyable to those who have read This Dark Endeavour, but the book is worth reading on its own merits. Even the goofier scenes (silly little butterflies in the Spirit World are the book's equivalent of Twilight's sparkling) make sense within the context of the story. The characters are sympathetic but not likeable, spending far too much time bickering amongst themselves and acting like sulky teenagers. Best pal Henry Clerval emerges the hero of the story. He was my favourite character in Frankenstein too, perhaps because 'Clerval' is a great surname.
While not even approaching the same league as Mary Shelley's seminal masterpiece, Such Wicked Intent is an intelligent, gripping piece of teenage literature that stands head and shoulders above the likes of Twilight to bear comparison with Philip Pullman's Dark Materials. As with the latter (and maybe Harry Potter), it's one of the few pieces of young literature that it's perfectly acceptable for you to read on the bus. As long as you promise to read Frankenstein, if you haven't already.