Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Such Wicked Intent by Kenneth Oppel

"I won't go back inside because it's such a wicked endeavor, and if you were smarter, you wouldn't go back either."
A prophetic statement by Elizabeth, which Victor Frankenstein should have taken to heart. Such Wicked Intent picks up where This Dark Endeavor left off; the books from the Dark Library are being burned by Victor's father, and the library is to be sealed up. As they watch them burn, Elizabeth reveals to Victor that she has decided to enter the religious life, now that Konrad is dead. Victor mocks Elizabeth for her decision, causing the two of them to quarrel. When he turns to leave the scene of the book burning, he makes an astonishing discovery of a red metal book that was not consumed by the fire. Inside this metal "book" he discovers the instructions for a "spirit board". Unable to resist, Victor follows the instructions which lead him to make a kind of Ouija board that uses a pendulum. Against the advice of Elizabeth, Victor uses the spirit board in the hopes of contacting his dead twin, Konrad. A message is received, which Victor is convinced has come from Konrad, although as Elizabeth points out, he can't really be sure who the message is from.

Victor and Elizabeth tell Henry Clerval what has happened. Convinced he has received a message from Konrad to raise him from the dead, Victor decides that he will not give up on black magic to attain what he wants - raising Konrad from the dead.
"I sighed. 'I've no idea, not yet. Here's all I know: that the world is uncontrollable. Chaos reigns. That anything and everything might be possible. I won't subscribe to any rational system again. Nothing will bind me.'
Henry realizes that he has seen the red metal book before -- in a portrait of Wilhelm Frankenstein in the chateau. The three of them study the portrait and from what they learn, they make an astonishing discovery of a secret room in the ceiling of the chateau's long abandoned chapel. There they find Wilhelm Frankenstein's notebook and an elixir that allows them to enter the spirit world for short periods of time.

Initially only Victor travels into the spirit world where he meets Konrad. But eventually Victor manages to entice Elizabeth and then Henry too. This spirit world is a sort of parallel world in which Victor and his friends can see through the layers of time in the Frankenstein chateau.

Around this time, workmen, who are sealing up the Dark Library and filling in the well in the library, discover that the well leads to a series of subterranean caverns underneath the Frankenstein Chateau. These caves contain many primitive paintings but also some kind of mysterious writing that no one can yet decipher.

When Henry, Victor and Elizabeth return to the spirit world, they investigate the caves and Victor with the help of some kind of supernatural force, learns what they need to do to raise Konrad - essentially build him a body. However, both Henry and Elizabeth sense that there is something very ancient and evil in the caves.

When they return to the real world, the trio set about creating a new physical body for Konrad, although how they would merge his spirit with this new body I can't imagine. As this creature grows, Victor begins to suspect that not all is as it seems. It has a hidden malevolent side, that Elizabeth refuses to recognize and Henry can't understand. Meanwhile, a visiting professor researching the paintings and caves beneath the chateau discovers an ancient burial mound that held a monstrous creature, who bears some physical similarities to the creature Victor is growing.

As Victor makes more visits to the spirit world, he also visits the caves beneath the chateau. He learns more about what was buried in the caves so long ago and begins to understand that this creature is using them to be reborn. Through the use of the occult and black magic they have opened the door to a great evil. Can Victor end what he started?

There's no doubt that Kenneth Oppel is a gifted author. His development of Victor Frankenstein as a young man increasingly obsessed with creating life is brilliant. Victor is a megalomaniac - a man hungry for power but not just any power. It is the power that is gained through knowledge and a desire to use that knowledge to control the physical world around him, including the very force of life. Even after the dark and terrifying events described in this novel, he still can't quite let go of his obsession and the ending hints at where his thoughts might lead him next!

The characterization of Victor is aided by a well conceived storyline which not only portrays the lengths a person might go to be godlike but also develops the idea that Victor Frankenstein's desires span generations. Wilhelm Frankenstein, Victors grandfather, lived in a chateau that had given up God and closed the chateau's chapel, replacing it with a library filled with books about dark magic.

Elizabeth is portrayed as a devout Catholic, yet she goes along with Victor's escapades - so I feel in this sense that she is a character that is not true to herself. No truly devout Catholic would dabble in the occult in this manner. Konrad was portrayed in the first novel as the kind twin, gentle and caring. This is what attracted Elizabeth to him. As a Catholic she would take great solace in the fact that at death, he would be in the hands of God. Apparently, her desire to see her true love and the possibility presented to her by Victor of creating a body for Konrad are too tempting for her to ignore.

Most of the characters we met in the first novel, Victor's brothers, his parents and even Henry, are not much further developed. This is plainly a novel that continues the characterization of Victor Frankenstein as a young scientist headed towards madness and ruin.

There is plenty of objectionable content for Catholic youth in this book; the use of Ouija-like objects, necromancy which is communication with the dead, and possession by demons, as well as Victor Frankenstein's blasphemous attitude towards God. I understand that all this is setting the stage for Shelley's Frankenstein, the madman scientist who creates a hideous monster from dead bodies. The book ably demonstrates the dangers of flirting with the occult, as Victor unleashes a horror that they barely survive, suggesting to young readers that there exist powers we cannot understand. Such Wicked Intent does offer an opportunity to discuss the occult and black magic, although I certainly have strong reservations about recommending this book to younger readers. I'm betting the final book in The Apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein will be even more disturbing.

Such Wicked Intent has a good trailer that sets the stage for the novel:

Book Details:
Such Wicked Intent by Kenneth Oppel
Toronto: HarperCollins 2012
310 pp.

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