I loved the occult-free scariness of book one. It left me with the same nicely unsettled feeling as the classic novel, Frankenstein, for which this series serves as a prequel. But in book two, after the Elixir of Life fails to save his brother, Victor burns all his books of alchemy and turns his focus to the spiritual. Mr. Oppel does weave a page-turning story which I did finish and enjoy, but I do advise much more caution than with book one. My fear of dabbling with spirits closely resembles Elizabeth’s when she admonishes Victor for trying to talk to his dead brother:
“The occult? I actually believe in a world beyond ours, Victor. I haven’t seen them yet, but there may truly be ghosts—and devils too—and I think it very unwise to try to summon them.”
But Victor will try any means to get Konrad back:
“I tell you, I want to see my twin again!”
“But how?” Henry demanded.
I sighed. “I’ve no idea, not yet. Here’s all I know…That anything and everything might be possible. I won’t subscribe to any rational system again. Nothing will bind me.”
“That is the way to madness,” said Elizabeth.
“If it makes me mad, so be it.”
Victor’s determination lands him, Elizabeth, and Henry squarely in the spirit world. And the result is horrible. For in the spirit world, a shifting, strange, parallel dimension, Victor finds ancient cave writings that describe how to grow a soulless body that exactly resembles the deceased, which the kids do in an outbuilding on the manor. When it is grown, Victor intends to retrieve Konrad’s spirit and unite them. But the spark of life needed to grow the body (the liquid butterfly shadow that accompanies them out of the spirit world) they learn, is subject to a dark force. They have dabbled in evil far beyond their expectations.
Such Wicked Intent also contains a few other cautionary details. There are one or two mild profanities and a scene in which Victor strips off all his clothes to capture the parasitic butterfly shadow that crawls on him. And at one point Elizabeth narrowly escapes being raped. But the demonic element is my greatest caution.
On the literary side, Mr. Oppel continues to create a character in line with the original selfish, violent, power-hungry Victor Frankenstein. His metamorphosis is clever. And the conflict between religion and science continues to be represented brilliantly by Victor and Elizabeth. A main theme of the series, as in Frankenstein, is how far should one go in playing God? Just because we can do something, does that mean we should? It’s a great discussion starter and very relevant to today’s medical advances and ethical issues. It also illustrates man’s limits. For with all our learning and technology, we are still unable to create life.
This plot is complex, suspenseful, and contains several twists and surprises. It’s a thought-provoker. But it also delves into uncomfortable and potentially dangerous spiritual areas. I couldn’t put it down. But for kids, I strongly advise parental guidance and age 14 at the least.
Book one: This Dark Endeavor