Yesterday I read This Dark Endeavor, to be published this fall by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers. It’s a good book, gothic boy-oriented YA, a prequel to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein in which Victor Frankenstein fights with his older twin over their common love and on the way learns a little alchemy. This post, though, is not a review.
I just wanted to comment on the structure of the book. Its bones show through so clearly, that you can see exactly how it’s put together. Some observations:
- In the first chapter, we meet the principal characters, see a play that foreshadows the theme (the brothers will fight), and end with an incident featuring physical danger that tells us about the personalities of the two brothers and tells us another theme of the book (one brother saves another).
- Within fifty pages, we have an inciting incident (or really two: the older brother becomes sick, and the kids find a secret alchemical library / laboratory in their family manor). Victor resolves to heal his brother using alchemy.
- A Yoda / Siduri / Gandalf character on the border of the quotidian and adventure worlds, a crippled old alchemist, sends Victor and his friends on a quest: they must collect three exotic items, which the alchemist can only reveal to them one at a time, each of which can only be collected with risk, adventure and sacrifice.
- The brothers’ relationship is punctuated with a series of fencing matches which becomes increasingly tense, reflecting the state of affairs between them.
- Approximately halfway through the book, Victor admits to himself that he is in love with his brother’s girlfriend, committing himself irrevocably to healing his brother, not for his brother’s good, but for his own glory.
- At the end of the completion of the third quest, there is a plot twist (one not particularly well foreshadowed, but still predictable) that leads into the climax, which consists both of action sequences and Victor’s ultimate choice: which brother will be healed? Which will get the girl?