Review: Such Wicked Intent by Kenneth Oppel
From Goodreads.com: When does obsession become madness? Tragedy has forced sixteen-year-old Victor Frankenstein to swear off alchemy forever. He burns the Dark Library. He vows he will never dabble in the dark sciences again, just as he vows he will no longer covet Elizabeth, his brother’s betrothed. If only these things were not so tempting. When he and Elizabeth discover a portal into the spirit world, they cannot resist. Together with Victor’s twin, Konrad, and their friend Henry, the four venture into a place of infinite possibilities where power and passion reign. But as they search for the knowledge to raise the dead, they unknowingly unlock a darkness from which they may never return.
Amanda’s take: The first book, This Dark Endeavor, completely swept me away in a dark tale of greed, jealously, family honor and love, and the unspoken (magic, the occult). It was creepy and atmospheric and brilliant. It stacked up against one of my favorite books, The Monstrumologist by Rick Yancy, and now has a prized place on my bookshelf. I’ve always loved the story of Frankenstein (you should see my copy of the Mary Shelley original, all dog-eared and highlighted) but This Dark Endeavor threw a twist on the classic tale by giving readers the origins of Victor Frankenstein’s “madness”. With the second book, Oppel pushes readers further into Victor’s mind (it’s not a comfortable place to be, trust me).
Okay, if you haven’t read This Dark Endeavor and don’t want to be spoiled, seriously….stop reading right here. Cause I’m gonna spill that book’s guts. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
In the aftermath of Konrad’s death, Victor finds himself lost without his twin. His pursuit of Konrad’s betrothed, Elizabeth, comes to a halt and Victor vows to never engage in the dark arts again, going so far as to burn the Dark Library. But it’s this vow to stay away from all dark knowledge and leave his more ….questionable pursuits behind that make Victor crave what he can’t have. All it takes is one little push; while burning the Dark Library’s content, Victor finds one book that didn’t burn, a small metal book that contains knowledge he really shouldn’t be in possession in. Victor’s grief over his twin’s death, combined with the desire to bring him back, propels Victor to figure out the secrets of the metal book.
That seemingly harmless book actually gives its reader instructions on how to venture into the spirit world. (This is the point in the book where I said, “Oh sh**”, because I knew what Victor was going to do and I knew it wasn’t going to end well. I still wanted find out what happened though!) Elizabeth, who is distraught over Konrad’s death, joins Victor and their friend Henry in trying to find Konrad in this spirit world. They do actually find Konrad and discover that he is being “haunted” by a malicious spirit and Konrad fears that this spirit may be trying to take him.
I really enjoyed all of the action surrounding the gang’s attempt to “rescue” Konrad from this spirit (there are consequences for going into the spirit world, there was a continued tension between the brothers), but what was truly fascinating and intensely creepy was the action outside of the spirit world. Victor becomes obsessed with trying to bring his brother back to life and discovers a magical entity (it presents itself as a black butterfly) in the spirit world that could help him do so. If you are familiar at all with the tar baby stories from world folklore, you’ll understand this: Victor, through knowledge gained from this magical entity, makes a human-like figure from mud, puts one of the black butterflies in its chest, and buries the mud baby. He, Elizabeth, and Henry check on it the next day and find out that the mud baby has not only come to life, but is growing at an alarming rate.
That sounds…weird, I know, and it is. It is also extremely creepy. The bigger this mud baby gets, the more attached Elizabeth becomes to it, and once it is roughly the “age” Konrad was when he died, the mud baby goes crazy. Because of my knowledge of world folklore, this part of the book became one of the more chill-inducing I’ve ever read. Add in Elizabeth’s sudden and strange obsession with this “Konrad”, and a run-in with the ghost of a Frankenstein ancestor, and you get a rather thrilling ending.
The point that Oppel is making, and I think he did so very well, is that Victor Frankenstein’s madness and obsession was something that just happened because of his large brain and innate curiosity. Victor was easily led into obsession by his own quest for knowledge, his selfishness, and his narcissism. It’s a story well-played, and with the way this book ends (you guys know I’m not going to spoil it!), I really want to see one more book in this series that leads us right up to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.