Friday, September 30, 2011

This Dark Endeavor and Augmented Reality

At hundreds of Chapters Indigo stores all across Canada, you will find an amazing banner depicting the Dark Library: shelf upon shelf of ancient tomes which Victor Frankenstein discovers in a secret chamber within his chateau.

If you have an Android phone, you can download a free app instantly, and scan your phone's camera over the shelves to search for a hidden volume. When you find it, the book will slide out from the shelf (on your cell phone screen), open, and reveal animated clues about my story.

The campaign was launched yesterday, at the Eaton Centre Indigo store in Toronto.

Or you can go here to my website, and experience the same thing via your computer's webcam:

Have fun!

And click here for Quill & Quire's coverage of the Augmented Reality campaign.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Young-adult Frankenstein

By Mark Medley
Reprinted from The National Post
photo credit: Tim Fraser

The National Post's Mark Medley spoke to bestselling author Kenneth Oppel about his latest young-adult epic.

Mary Shelley published Frankenstein, her first and bestknown novel, when she was only 21 - an age when most people are still in university. Impressed? Well, Kenneth Oppel was still in high school when he published Colin's Fantastic Video Adventure, a novel he'd begun at the age of 14.

Now, 25 years after the start of his writing career, Oppel has mined Shelley's masterpiece for his latest book, This Dark Endeavour: The Apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein, one of the most talked-about young-adult novels of the fall.

"I think any time you use a classic as a springboard, you might be asking for a bit of trouble," says Oppel, sitting on a patio near his Toronto home earlier this week. "You're begging for a comparison. And it would be pretty tough to come out on the winning end."

Oppel was rereading Frankenstein a few years ago when he was struck by descriptions of the scientist's childhood. "No human being could have passed a happier childhood than myself," Frankenstein says in an early chapter, before chronicling carefree days spent seeking the elixir of life, searching for the philosopher's stone and raising demons.

"What kind of happy kid spends his time trying to raise the dead and commune with devils?" Oppel asks. "But, as a writer, I looked at that stuff and I thought, 'Hmm. It's pretty interesting kernels for stories.' "

Although he jotted down some ideas, Oppel was hesitant to write an origin story. The market was already flooded with prequels - Young Sherlock Holmes, Young James Bond - and Oppel didn't want to be seen as jumping on a bandwagon, however lucrative it might be. Eventually, after finally deciding to explore Frankenstein's childhood in a novel, Oppel typed up a couple of pages and sent them to his agent, who "flipped" for the idea. He then wrote two sample scenes, which his agent sent to publishers around the world. "There was a bidding war for the book based on the idea," Oppel says.

In This Dark Endeavour, a 16-year-old Victor Frankenstein, with the aid of his pseudo-sister Elizabeth and friend Henry Clerval, set out to find the Elixir of Life, which Victor hopes will save his twin brother, Konrad, who has been afflicted with a strange malady. Oppel describes it as an alternative history of the Frankenstein family.

"I'm just trying to capture the flavour of the book," he says. "It's not supposed to be a total simulation of what Mary Shelley might have written had she gone back further in the chronology of the story."

Those familiar with Shelley's life or her 1818 novel will spot elements Oppel has borrowed for his own work, but readers needn't be familiar with Shelley's book to enjoy Oppel's offering, though he hopes young readers will seek out the original afterwards.

"What's exceptional is the story and the subject matter," he says of the original. "It's mythological. It's a cautionary tale about science and religion and early technologies - our relationship to the things we create on the planet and the other creatures on the planet. So it's a very moral and ethical book. I think that's one of the reasons I like it - it's got everything: it's a page-turner, it's a great story, it's got a monster for God's sake! It's sci-fi! It's horror! It's everything! But as a writer, it's all material. I look at it as, what a great story. I'd like to dig around in that and see where I can go with it."

Oppel, who says he's drawn to "heroes with huge cracks in their character," sees some similarities between his own work and the scientist with the Lazarus complex.

"We're grave robbers," he says of writers. "We dig stuff up. We chop it up. We sew it back together. We do our best. Sometimes it's ugly. Sometimes the suturing isn't good. Actually, when I think about it, it's a pretty excellent metaphor for the creative process. Because there is theft - subconsciously if not consciously. My imagination is informed and made up with all my favourite books, everything I saw, every comic I read, every movie, every video game I played, every theme park ride I was on. Every experience that I had is somewhere in there. And you pilfer, and you poach, and you try to recreate these amazing moments you had as a kid - these perfect, amazing, moments - and create this world."

The 44-year-old Oppel has been creating worlds since 1985, when his first novel was published. Since then, he's written more than 20 books for children, young adults and adults, including 1997's Silverwing, which has sold almost a million copies around the world, and 2004's Airborn, which won the Governor General's Award for Children's Literature.

This Dark Endeavour may prove to be his most popular book yet. It has already been sold to 13 territories around the world, and optioned for film by Summit Entertainment, the powerhouse behind the Twilight franchise. Matt Reeves (Cloverfield) has been tapped to direct. Although Oppel is realistic about the movie's chances of being made - he says seven Frankenstein features are currently in development - This Dark Endeavour has one thing going for it: "Mine ... is the only one with hot teens."

Whatever happens with the movie, Oppel is not leaving Shelley's world behind just yet - a sequel called Such Wicked Intent will be released next year.

Midway through our interview, I ask Oppel if he'd mind it if another writer used his work for their own fiction.

"After I'm dead, I don't imagine I'll have any say in it anyway," he says with a laugh. "It's an interesting question. Sure, if they did a good job, all power to them. Go for it. I don't mind that, it's really quite flattering. Too bad I wouldn't be around to get some of the residuals."

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Oppel stirs up alchemical magic in Frankenstein prequel

Kenneth Oppel in 2008 - Kenneth Oppel in 2008 | Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Reviewed by Kelley Armstrong

Reprinted from The Globe and Mail
Published Friday, Sep. 23, 2011

Photo credit: copyright Fred Lum

The word “Frankenstein” often conjures up images of a block-headed monster brought to life by a mad scientist. But those familiar with Mary Shelley’s classic tale know that Frankenstein is not the monster; he is its creator, a young man driven to tragedy by ambition. In This Dark Endeavor, Kenneth Oppel adds a prologue to Shelley’s classic with a young adult novel about Victor Frankenstein, the teenager who will grow up to play God.

Oppel’s Victor is a 16-year-old living with his twin brother, Konrad, and their distant cousin, Elizabeth, in late-18th-century Switzerland. Together with their friend Henry Clerval, they enjoy the carefree lives of privileged young adults, and amuse themselves exploring the grounds, fencing and performing plays.

When Victor finds the Dark Library hidden deep in the subterranean passages beneath Chateau Frankenstein, it is like something out of their Gothic plays. After solving the riddle to enter, he discovers a library filled with arcane books, including Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa’s Occulta Philosophia, which becomes pivotal to the story. Victor soon finds himself fascinated by this mysterious world of occult science and alchemy. Of course, he is soon in urgent need of the magic these books promise, and the true story begins.

Oppel’s past novels for children have showcased his talent for writing action-packed tales. Despite the literary premise, This Dark Endeavor is no different. It comes as no surprise to learn that Hollywood is already developing a big-screen version of this cinematic adventure. Yet Oppel doesn’t sacrifice other aspects of the story to maintain the page-turning pace. He has obviously done extensive research into the period and the history of alchemy, and his historical setting is richly developed, as are the characters who inhabit it.

The protagonist, Victor, isn’t perfect. Oppel expertly lays the groundwork for the man we know Victor will become. He is arrogant and reckless, driven by a passionate, striving intelligence and a refusal to accept natural law as inviolable. He is also a believable teenager, beginning to question authority and make his own choices. When his father tries to dissuade him by confessing his own mistakes, Victor’s reaction is typical for his age, seeing not parental concern, but hypocrisy.

Oppel doesn’t neglect the female part of his audience either. In Elizabeth, he creates a spirited young woman who refuses to be left on the sidelines during even the most dangerous adventures.

There is a final twist that seems abrupt, leading to a rushed final chapter. However, the ending does propel the story in a direction it must go, and will leave readers eagerly awaiting the sequel.

For those who have read Frankenstein, This Dark Endeavor adds a new chapter – and a fresh angle – to a familiar story. The target audience, though, is teens, most of whom will not be familiar with the source material. Fortunately, they will have no trouble enjoying this story on its own merits. This Dark Endeavor may renew interest in Frankenstein, but it also stands alone as an original and welcome addition to the world of young-adult fiction.

Kelley Armstrong is the author of the Darkest Power series for young adults.

© 2011 The Globe and Mail Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Toronto Star covers DARK ENDEAVOUR

The darker side of sweet sixteen

September 16, 2011
By Sarah Millar Toronto Star

This isn't the first time a book of Kenneth Oppel's has been optioned for a movie.

It's happened to many of his books before, including the Airborn trilogy, which was optioned by Universal Pictures and Stephen Somers, the man behind The Mummy movies.

"That never got made," the Toronto-based author said pointedly over the phone.

Now it's the author's latest young adult book, This Dark Endeavour: The Apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein, which has been optioned for a film. This time by Summit Entertainment and Karen Rosenfelt: The people who took the Twilight trilogy to the big screen.

So far the film has a director: Matt Reeves, who directed the film Cloverfield (which is one of Oppel calls: "Godzilla done right."), and a screenwriter.

But just because the book has been optioned, has a producer, a director and a screenwriter doesn't mean it's going to get made. Especially in Hollywood. This is something Oppel knows well. Because of this, he's trying to remain realistic, but hopeful about the book coming to a big screen near you.

This Dark Endeavour, which was released last month, tells the story of Victor Frankenstein at the age of 16. It riffs off Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, a book that Oppel has always loved.

After re-reading the classic novel years ago, he began to wonder about Frankenstein's youth. He was intrigued by how Frankenstein described his youth ("No youth could have passed more happier than mine").

"It made me laugh because I thought it was a rather disingenous statement to say that when you're doing things totally unlike what you imagine a happy, carefree youth would do," Oppel said.

He also wondered what could happen to someone in their youth that would turn them into a man who goes around digging up graves and chopping up body parts and sewing them back together.

As a starting point, he decided to tell the story of Frankenstein's hunt for the Elixir of life — something Shelley mentioned in her novel. In This Dark Endeavour, young Victor feels compelled to find the Elixir when his beloved twin brother gets ill and may die. Fearing that conventional medicine cannot save him, Victor turns to black magic.

Oppel admitted that there were challenges in taking a character so well-known and making it his own.

"I was apprehensive, certainly in so much as you feel nervous taking on a literary classic and borrowing from it and reimagining it," he explained.

"So you feel you have to be respectful and try to keep the spirit of the original. And I tried to do that with the language, without alienating my readers. I'd like to think the novel has the same tone, it's the same sort of gothic, operatic, overwrought tone as the original."

Oppel learned that the book had been optioned in January of this year, after he had finished writing it. But, he said, the thought of the book being made into a movie did not influence the writing process.

"Realistically, the chance of any book becoming a film is slim. Even though now more than ever before more young adult books are being turned into movies because it's a very hot market, (doesn't guarantee a film will come)," he said.

Instead, Oppel's looking forward to his next book, a follow up to This Dark Endeavour, called Such Wicked Intent which picks up right where This Dark Endeavour leaves off and will be released in about a year. Oppel is not sure if the series of young Victor Frankenstein will stretch beyond the two books, but said he loves to write characters like Victor Frankenstein.

"It's so much more interesting to take a character that really exhibits every element of human nature than just focus on someone that's calm and heroic and does the right thing 95 per cent of the time. . . in the new book he descends to new levels of obsessiveness, and that to me is the fun part.

"I mean he's Victor Frankenstein, he's not Charlie Brown."

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

THIS DARK ENDEAVOR: Review of the Week

Reprinted from QUILL & QUIRE

October 2011

The movie rights to Kenneth Oppel’s latest novel have already been sold to the producers of the Twilight series. No surprise there. This Dark Endeavour has all the elements – a love triangle, the supernatural, a touch of animal lust – that made the Stephanie Meyer franchise such a hit.

It also has depth and intelligence. Set in 18th-century Geneva, the story revolves around 16-year-old twins Victor and Konrad Frankenstein and their distant cousin, Elizabeth, who has lived with the Frankenstein family in their ancestral castle since she was a child. The three discover a secret library full of books on alchemy, including one that promises to produce an “Elixir of Life.” When Konrad falls gravely ill, Victor, against his father’s instructions, sets out with Elizabeth to find the ingredients for the elixir.

Along for the ride is family friend Henry Clerval (whose ultimate fate will be known to those who have read Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein). His role here is limited, but since two more books are planned, it’s a sure bet we’ll be seeing more of him.

It takes a while to get used to the prose, which faintly echoes the style of Shelley’s 19th-century novel. At first it feels rather stilted, but once the adventure gets going, we are quickly caught up in Victor’s quest for the three ingredients, his growing lust for Elizabeth, and his jealousy over her preference for the “good” twin, Konrad.

Most engaging of all is Oppel’s choice of narrator. Victor’s seething passions and mixed motives – coupled with his clear-eyed assessment of them – make him by far the most complex and, oddly, sympathetic character Oppel has created (at least, among those that are human). Kind, sensible Konrad seems positively pale by comparison. Team Victor, start your engines.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

THIS DARK ENDEAVOR: Review of the Week


Love, loyalty, loss, and obsession, all linger at the heart of Kenneth Oppel's This Dark Endeavour: The Apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein , a gripping narrative of the early years of Mary Shelley's Dr. Frankenstein, his family, and the passions that ultimately consumed him. I am often wary of prequels to classic novels, but I have to admit that I was pleasantly surprised and more than a little short of breath by the time I read the final sentence of this, dare I say, masterpiece. Having recently read Shelley's Frankenstein , I was not entirely sure how this attempt at a childhood story of the mad doctor would turn out. Hours after finishing the novel, I am already anxious for another installment.

Victor tells the story from his perspective, detailing his relationship with his twin brother Konrad, his cousin Elizabeth, and his friend Henry, as they enter a world of alchemy and pseudo-science. The three children come across a hidden library one day, deep within the bowels of the Frankenstein chateau, an eerily spectacular castle sitting on the edge of Lake Geneva. The Dark Library, as it is named, holds shelf upon shelf of dusty tomes from long-dead philosophers, alchemists, and mad-men. Victor's father is insistent that the children stay away from the library for fear that they will be seduced by the false knowledge hidden on the brittle, dusty pages. But one day, Konrad falls mysteriously ill, and even after a number of physicians, including Dr.Murnau—a delightful nod to W. F. Murnau of Nosferatu fame—are unable to find anything but a temporary cure, Victor, Elizabeth, and Henry, try to find a cure on their own.

Aided by a mysterious old alchemist named Julius Poidori, who lives in the city, the three friends embark on a series of adventures to find ingredients for the Elixir of Life, an ancient recipe written in an almost unreadable language. Along the way, Victor finds out about a deeper, romantic connection between Konrad and Elizabeth. With this knowledge, mixed with jealousy and the possibility of an elixir that can cure all ills and prevent death—with the exception of the most violent or gruesome kind—he becomes ever more obsessed in his quest. Soon after the elixir is complete, he discovers that he is not the only one who has developed a deep and frightening desire to obtain it.

Oppel's characters are incredibly complex, with the possible exception of Victor and Konrad's mother—who is often peripheral, though still strong when she shows up—and all seem to have some dark secret that motivates them throughout the novel. What starts out as an innocent quest for a medicine to cure Konrad quickly turns into a dark and twisted game of survival, secrets, and deceit, and the further they all continue, the less likely it is that any of them will actually win. This book is a work of fiction that goes beyond the limits of a simple prequel, often seeming as if Mary Shelley, herself, might have imagined the world and history of the Frankenstein family that Oppel has created. Oppel's mastery of language, and his ability to provoke a multitude of emotions, shines through, in This Dark Endeavour: The Apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein

Highly Recommended. (4/4 STARS)

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Sketchbook of Victor Frankenstein, Part III

"He is quite tame. He came to me as a mere kitten and is as amiable as any house cat. Aren't you, Krake?"

The alchemist's fingers vigorously kneaded the fur between Krake's ears, and the lynx gave a luxuriant yawn, revealing wickedly sharp teeth...

-- from This Dark Endeavor: The Apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein.

artwork copyright Sophia Oppel