Books

Such Wicked Intent by Kenneth Oppel

Such Wicked Intent on 8/12
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When his grieving father orders the destruction of the Dark Library, Victor retrieves a book in which he finds the promise of not just communicating with the dead, but entering their realm, and soon he, Elizabeth, and Henry are in the spirit world of Château Frankenstein, creating and growing a body.

Man, I hate zombies.13063098

It’s not the shuffling or the groaning or the brain-eating (all of which, I will admit, are not ideal), it’s the terrible sadness of them. Out of all the paranormal creatures currently shaking their little tushes on the publishing catwalk, zombies got the worst deal. Vampires? Killer nightlife. Werewolves? Monthly inconvenience. Faeries? Avoid blacksmiths and enjoy your courtly drama. Ditto for elves but with a better wardrobe.

But zombies, man. Zombies got nothing.

Their bodies get dragged around 24/7, steadily decomposing, while they’re driven by ceaseless hunger and rabid bands of Hollywood actors toting shotguns. There’s just no indication that they get to enjoy their unlife. They exist solely to gross out the survivors of a story before being squooshily killed.

And Frankenstein’s monsters, despite how eloquent the first monster was in Shelley’s original story, are basically zombies. Which raises the question: who would do something like that?

Victor Frankenstein, that’s who. In the original, he’s a hyper-obsessed, arrogant, woe-is-me mad scientist, with no time for little people with little minds, thinking little thoughts about religion, morality and consequence. No time!

He is, in fact, a d-bag, and all the best Frankenstein re-tellings showcase some aspect of his d-baggery. But what none of them have done is have everyone else — everyone like his beloved Elizabeth and faithful dog friend Henry Clerval call him out on it. Until now!

Such Wicked Intent re-tells the Frankenstein story in an interestingly fractured way. Victor now has a twin brother, Konrad (and doppelgangers always make my heart go pitter-pat. Blame Miami Vice) along with an unhinged, wild-eyed ancestor named Wilhelm (who was played, in my head, by Robert Smith of The Cure). That’s about it for cast changes. At the time of the series, Victor is a young man only just beginning to feel the throb of science in his budding loins (consistent with the original) and also feeling the throb of something else when he looks at Elizabeth (again consistent), but oh no! She’s in love with Konrad! Who is dying of a mysterious disease!

That sound you just heard was spectral Mary Shelley throwing her hands in the air at the addition of a melodramatic teenage love triangle to her classic horror story. Yes, you’re right. It sounded like a gentle whooshing noise.

Then again, history tells us Mary (Ms. Shelley if you’re nasty) had her fair share of melodramatic love triangles, so maybe she should settle herself.

Anyway! As book 2 opens (and no, I haven’t read book 1 yet), Konrad’s succumbed to his illness despite what sounds like shenanigans from book 1 and Victor’s dad is royally pissed that in trying to save his brother, Victor opened up mad old uncle Wilhelm’s Dark Library and went rooting around in his necronomicons. So they’re all being burned in the courtyard, so Victor can just think about what he’s done, mister.

Victor does of course think about what he’s done, and realizes that if he’s going to bring his brother back from the dead (and/or woo Elizabeth (he is a busy little monkey)), he really needs to step up his game. And wouldn’t you know it, mad old uncle Wilhelm has just the thing for that.

Then shit gets crazy.

Now, it’s really hard to talk about the book’s plot in any concrete terms simply because we here at Smash Enterprises are firmly committed to the spoiler-free lifestyle. So what I’ll talk about instead is the kick-ass way in which Oppel blends his origami’d Frankenstein myth with a haunted house story, Shirley Jackson-style. Because the Frankenstein mansion plays an integral part in the story, not just by providing secret rooms at times that are convenient for the plot (although it does do that), but it also provides a womb-like enclosure for the story as a whole, where–

What? What’d I say?

I know, but we’re talking about a Frankenstein story, the original warped creation mythos, so you’re all just lucky this entire review isn’t one big bed of fertility metaphors and birth similes. Plus this book is all about the fear hhhhhhofthepussy. So much fear. Not a ton of pussy. But when you choose as the symbols/vehicles of your strange, dark netherworld black butterflies, and have them alight charmingly on your heroes and fill them with sharp, momentary surges of intense tingles and emotional well-being before flitting off and leaving the heroes bereft; and when you have Victor get nauseated when Elizabeth begins acting maternal to Victor’s monster (not a euphemism. Should be. Isn’t.) and when you flat out describe the monster as emerging from a womb, then we need to talk.

There’s more, but see above re: spoilers. You want to get into it in more detail, grab me in the comments or over on GR. Suffice it to say that thematically, if I’m expecting fear of the pussy anywhere, it’s in a damn Frankenstein book. It works.

But back to the mansion.

All the rooms are intensely well-described, so you as the reader feel like you’re following along at the heels of this mad-science Scooby Gang, but Oppel also has the house serve as the landscape of purgatory, which is where Konrad’s hanging out waiting for Victor to get his act together. And as Victor sets his plan to save Konrad in motion, he also discovers he has particular powers over the house in purgatory — power to move the walls, power to see all the ages of the house all at once, which if you stop to think about it, is very weird but appropriate for someone who’s trying to make a concertina out of the boundary between life and death.

I did wish that Elizabeth got to be more than simply a decision as to who she mates with, but at the very least, she gets to have agency in that decision and in addition she gets to be sneaky and duplicitous, which I am always here for and btw did I mention that fear of the pussy thing we got going on here? Did I mention Victor at one point takes a butterfly directly to the face and screams and falls over?

Hm. Fascinating.

Anyway, I can’t help it. I really enjoyed the book. I want to fanfic it. I want a sequel, but I suspect I’m out of luck there, as nothing’s been announced and the author’s let his domain lapse, which is kind of a bad sign. I’ll settle for reading the prequel and continuing to enjoy all the ways in which Elizabeth and Henry point out to Victor just how big of a douchewaffle he’s being, and he, in true dedication to the douchewaffle cause, agrees and declares it’s part of his charm. Then he gets slapped a bunch. It’s awesome.

Unless you’re the monster.

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