It’s a Mad, Mad World!

Have you ever wondered how mad scientists got to be mad? There’s Perecelcus, Dr. Strangelove, Dr. Faustus but the most famous mad scientist of all is Dr. Victor Frankenstein. Victor began life as a normal boy growing up in Victorian England with his twin, Konrad, two younger brothers and Elizabeth, a distant cousin taken in when her parents died. Konrad, Victor and Elizabeth are inseparable. One afternoon, completely by accident, they discover a secret passageway that lead to a mysterious and unused library. The books that are housed there none of the children have ever seen or heard of before and they wonder why the library was hidden away. Dr. Frankenstein, Sr. finds out about the discovery and forbids them from ever using the books again. The are all about the occult and alchemy, philosophies that have gotten people killed. The books are forgotten until the day that Konrad becomes desperately ill and none of the doctors seem to know what is wrong or how to treat him. Victor becomes obsessed with a tantalizing item he saw in one of the books. Something called “the elixir of life”. He makes several forays into the library to learn more but his search is cut short when the instructions for the elixir are in a language he does not recognize. It isn’t long before the cold trail heats up again and he stumbles upon Polidori, who seems to want to help. Elizabeth, Victor and friend Henry embark on a dangerous quest to gather all of the ingredients but is Polidori telling the everything? What are his true motives? What must Victor sacrifice to save his brother?

What an exciting and unique story! I’ve never felt much sympathy or empathy for Dr. Frankenstein. He was always just creepy. Oppel, however, casts him is a completely different light. He boy with feelings, passions, and foibles. The characters are interesting and the development of the conflict, while predictable, is scintillating. It’s also interesting the differences between the identical twins. One tends to assume that they are as similar in personality as they are in looks but Konrad and Victor definitely prove that assumption wrong. It’s a great historical novel but Oppel keeps the pages turning with taut suspense and thrilling action. It is obviously the start of a series and the ending leaves you knowing that there is much more to come.

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