This book is a "prequel" to Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. Oppel has done a good job of assuming her Gothic style. Consequently, it may be a somewhat challenging read for many adolescents. The content and themes are clearly designed for adolescent readers. The book tells the story of Victor Frankenstein's beginnings as a "mad scientist." Oppel creates a twin brother for Victor, Konrad, a somewhat timid but brilliant friend Henry, and a distantly related love interest, Elizabeth. Konrad falls ill from a mysterious and deadly illness. Victor, Elizabeth, and Henry go in search of a cure from a disgraced alchemist after discovering a hidden and forbidden library of alchemy in the family castle.
It took me a little persistence to finish this book. It may have just been that I was preoccupied with many other tasks, but I worry that adolescents may find this Gothic style a little too challenging. On the other hand, were I wanting to introduce students to pastiche or fan fiction, this might be a good choice. Oppel uses the basic personality of Victor Frankenstein to create an original tale that is congruent with Shelley's work.
This might be a good companion read with historical material on the transition between alchemy and modern science. The details that Oppel includes of Switzerland and Medieval walled-cities will also help connect to European history. He creates an ominous tone throughout the book that students should appreciate. It will provide good teaching material for the study of voice and word choice. He is not heavy handed and clearly demonstrates the subtleties of creating mood and tone. It is also a good choice for a "stepping stone" into the more complex and challenging Gothic literature of Shelly, Stoker, Poe and even some of Dickens and Wilde.