TDE – BULLETIN OF THE CENTER FOR CHILDREN'S BOOKS (Starred Review)
This prequel to Mary Shelley's Frankenstein has nothing of satire or parody to it; it builds faithfully on the spirit of the original as it imagines the episode that planted in the adolescent Victor Frankenstein the seeds of the adult scientist who would create and then reject a monster. Oppel (Half Brother, BCCB 10/10) posits a twin for Victor: Konrad, smarter, stronger, and kinder than the mercurial Victor, and an emerging rival for the affections of their distant cousin, the fierce and capable Elizabeth. When Konrad falls mysteriously ill, Victor's search for a cure leads him (along with Elizabeth and their phobia-ridden friend Henry) into the bowels of Chateau Frankenstein, where a hidden library starts him on the study of alchemy and a desperate race against time (and human fallibility) to create the Elixir of Life. There is a questing element to the trio's struggles to obtain the three ingredients needed for the elixir, each of which must be acquired through escalating feats of daring, that keeps the pace tripping urgently along, while the atmosphere is pure old-school cinematic horror, all hidden stairwells, ancient dungeons, and creaky, cobwebbed doors. Spare, formal language is well suited to the material, giving it a sense of connection to the original without alienating modern readers. The novel also shares its source's underlying anxiety about the shadowy intersections of faith, science, and magic in a world teetering on the precipice of a level of scientific endeavor that seems akin to playing God. Dark psychological drama, though, is the main engine here: Victor's determination to succeed is as much an urge to outperform Konrad as to save him. Oppel grapples with the human duality of animal and soul in ways that recall (but don't repeat) Shelley's similar thematic explorations as he revitalizes the classic horror tale for a new generation.
– BULLETIN OF THE CENTER FOR CHILDREN'S BOOKS (Starred Review)