There are handful of authors who never disappoint me, and Kenneth Oppel is one of them. This splendid sequel to This Dark Endeavor proved to be just as satisfying, if not even a bit more so, than its predecessor. Victor’s twin Konrad is barely cold in his grave before the young Frankenstein is trying to raise him from the dead. Of course, for any one else this would be utter madness, but Victor’s hubris knows no bounds. He’s sure that if he just had the right formula, he could defy even Death. Led by enigmatic clues that appear in a self portrait of his famous ancestor Wilhelm Frankestein, Victor finds his way into a shadow world of his family’s vast mansion where his brother still lives. Accompanied by his cousin-crush Elizabeth and best friend Henry, Victor travels to this strange purgatory frequently to search for a way to bring Konrad back to life. But what he doesn’t know is that there is malevolent presence that is invested in not only keeping his beloved brother right where he is, but drawing Victor, Elizabeth and Henry closer and closer to death as well. If I tell anymore, it will give too much away, but the way Oppel inventively reinterprets the classic Frankenstein monster will just floor you. Perfect pacing, non-stop action and complicated characters make Oppel’s writing an absolute pleasure to read. I adore brilliant, headstrong, jealous Victor and his raging ego. And Cousin Elizabeth is no shrinking violet, regularly kicking Victor to the curb every time he tries to convince her that it is really him and not his dead twin she is in love with. While you could easily read this title without having paged through the first one, why would you? And since SWI won’t be coming to a library, bookstore or e-reader near you until August 2012, you have plenty of time to go back to the beginning of this fantastic Frankenstein re-boot!
Sometimes you read a book and you say, “That’s my book.” It seems like the author wrote it just for you, that everything in it was created for your amusement and suspense and pleasure. It is intimate and wonderful and you want to tell everyone you know about it and keep it all to yourself at the same time. I know many of you have felt that way about this book, and this one and this one. And that is how I feel about Diviners by the diabolically funny and utterly fabulous Libba Bray. This is SO my book. It is full of everything awesome and scary and merry and sweet. It is set in the Roaring Twenties in a swanky, swaggering New York City and features a collection of complex, confused teens with mysterious powers, who, one by one, realize that their destiny is to fight an ancient evil that is rising up in their very midst. (My favorite started out as unapologetic party girl Evie, but oh, you are gonna have such a crush on dance hall Theta and moody poet Memphis as well) There is both a haunted house AND a haunted museum. There’s a serial killer who steals body parts and a terrifying religious cult baying for blood. There are speakeasys and rent parties. It is about both big things like Manifest Destiny and little things like sparkly headbands. You get a front row seat to the Harlem Renaissance and a balcony chair to the Ziegfeld Follies. And the frights aren’t just lame-o gross-outs, but deep psychological chills that get under your skin (although there are some pretty good gross-outs, and someone does lose their skin). There’s a diversity of character that without message or pretense, makes you understand that America is and always has been a melting pot and that characters of color or of various sexual orientation can be an intregal part of a story without their background being THE story. There is romance (but not too much), gore (but not too much), loads of suspense and even a Model-T car chase. All things I adore (who knew I loved Model-T car chases but it turns out that I DO). All things I can’t believe are in the same epic voluminous book that despite being over 500 pages is as tight as a proverbial drum. And the only reason that I’m not in deep mourning at having finished it and at never being able to read it again for the first time is that it is just the FIRST BOOK IN A NEW SERIES. THERE WILL BE MORE. And I’m already a hot mess of anticipation for book 2. An exquisitely written, sumptuous affair of a novel that you will want to pull up around your ears and roll around in like a flapper’s mink stole. I can’t wait for you to discover that this is YOUR BOOK TOO when it comes to a library, bookstore or e-reader near you. On your way to the library, check out this hilarious video of LB acting out the first scene of The Diviners with action figures. (Yes, I know. You thought you couldn’t love her more and now YOU DO.)
In 1485 Brittany, seventeen-year-old Ismae is rescued from an arranged marriage to a brutish pig farmer by a hedge witch who recognizes Ismae for who she is: a daughter of Mortain, god of Death. She is bundled off to the convent of St. Mortain, where is she trained by killer nuns to become a first rate assassin who specializes in poisons. She swears utter obedience to the convent and it’s hard core Mother Superior in exchange for a new life free from the demands of men. Once her education is complete, her first assignment is to pose as the mistress of a high-ranking advisor named Duval in the court of Brittany’s young duchess Anne, whose rule is being challenged by many powerful enemies. The convent is closely aligned to the duchess; her fate may well become theirs. So Ismae’s job is two-fold: to report to the Mother Superior everything she observes at court that may threaten the duchess, but also to spy on Duval, who the Mother suspects may be a traitor. This is all fine by Ismae, who’s been chomping at the bit to get out into the field and murder some deserving villain. But before long she is caught up in complicated court politics and suddenly things don’t seem quite so black and white. She finds herself questioning the Mother Superior’s directions and forming dangerous opinions of her own. But worst of all? She thinks she might be falling for the very man she has been assigned to spy on. When the dreaded order to murder someone close to her comes by crow from the convent, Ismae has a terrible choice to make: maintain her allegiance to the organization that saved her life, or throw away the only security she has ever known to follow her treacherous heart. This epic supernatural hist. fic. went on a touch too long for me as an adult reader, but I suspect the voluminous length will be no problem for you teen folk, who seem to never want a good book to end. And make no mistake, this is a very good book, full of backstabbing politics, duplicitous double crosses and back-room-deals gone bad. I liked it best when Ismae was efficiently going about her killing business. The assassination scenes are so riveting and suspenseful, you’ll find yourself guiltily paging ahead to the next murder. I found the poison bits especially intriguing, and was fascinated when Ismae was cataloging her toxic library of potions and filing away how each poison worked and what awful symptoms the victim could expect to suffer. And tucked between the swoony romance and stone cold killings, there’s also meaty themes about gender and class in the Middle Ages, and the very limited ways women were allowed to function in society. Even the royal duchess Anne who Ismae is fighting to protect has no real authority but is just a pawn being pulled back and forth between groups of powerful men who don’t care about her but only want what she represents. If historical fiction has been your poison in the past, then I highly recommend this terrific tome as the antidote.