The best part of Kenneth Oppel’s Such Wicked Intent is how well it works as Gothic fantasy that subtly pays homage to its source material. As the second in a series about a young Victor Frankenstein, it sets up the original tale of a power-mad scientist creating a living being from a patchwork of dead guys zapped with electricity. The underlying personality traits are developed — Victor loves power, hates death, and wants to act like God — but actual patchwork corpses are not. Instead, Oppel packs the book with creepy, fun, gothic imagery like a decrepit mansion, a gateway to the afterlife, a prehistoric god-like being, and a pocket watch made out of a dead bird. The book works because it goes beyond its premise and stands alone as a gothic novel.
The plot follows Victor’s point of view as he tries to bring his twin brother Konrad back from the dead. The pacing is quite fast and the book juggles several plots that all come together for a slam-bang finale. While the final 50 pages were increasingly action-and-revelation-packed, this was actually almost a downer for me, because the rest of the book was such a slow burn: The ending was so different that it gave me whiplash. I’ve seen this before in Oppel’s books, notably the Airborn series. Oppel lovingly crafts his plot twists, leaving plenty of well-placed clues, but then leaves all the good twists for the climax of the book, when it would be more fun to have them all earlier, so that the readers can enjoy the consequences. Luckily, the rest of the book is still engaging enough to keep me until the climax.
The only real downside to the book, and the reason I dropped a star from my “fully enjoyable” five star rating, is that all the characters are fairly navel-gazing. They worry so much about their own emotions that they tend to devolve into jealousy. Victor, naturally, is the worst of the lot, due to his tragic lust for power. It’s supposed to add human interest, and it’s certainly in line with gothic literature’s proclivity for melodrama. But since there’s so much, it felt repetitive. And I don’t like reading about a bunch of whiners.