Thursday, November 3, 2011

Canadian Book Week: Kenneth Oppel

It's day three of Novel Writing Month, and so far so good: I have written something every day. Not much (I'm at about 4 pages longhand), but I'm getting to know my characters and setting and getting closer to figuring out my plot. (I think.)

This blog post has been sitting half-finished for weeks, now, so I figured I could procrastinate today's writing and finish it.

I have not forgotten my promise to focus on a Canadian author once a month, and this month it just has to be Kenneth Oppel, because his latest book has just come out, and it's awesome!

 That is an amazing cover, is it not? It gives you setting, mood, character; it reaches out and sucks you in; it promises you will be transported into the world beyond the keyhole. But really, all you have to read is the subtitle and you know you have to read this book. I mean, "The Apprentiship of Victor Frankenstein": how audacious is that?

But if anyone can tell a convincing story about fiction's most famous monster-maker, it's Kenneth Oppel. He's a versatile writer with a sure sense of story. He's written picture books, early readers, middle-grade and YA novels, all with strong characters and lots of action but also thematic depth and real emotion.

Does This Dark Endeavor live up to its cover? Yes. I had my reservations, because I wasn't sure I would like the character of Victor, but by the end of the novel I was convinced. If you have any interest in the Frankenstein story, if you love secret libraries and alchemy and finding impossible ingredients for the elixir of life, (and who doesn't?) then you have to read this book.

The Silverwing trilogy could be thought of as a middle-grade Watership Down, starring bats. It has animals that behave like animals, a mythology that makes sense and resonates with the story (Camazotz, the vampire bat-god, and an underworld, and possible apocalypse), and a very cool bat super-power that allows Shade to save the day more than once.  I'm making it sound more like fantasy than it is: most of the adventures are real-world/real-bat encounters with owls and humans and big nasty bats and suchlike. But the fantasy elements add that extra zing. I haven't read them in a while,  but these are books I reread happily because there's so much to them. A good choice for boy readers. I haven't read Guardians of Ga'hoole, but I'm betting if you liked those books you'll like these.

The Airborn series is for slightly older readers, and the airships and goggles on the covers do not lie: this is classic steampunk: an alternative history in which zepplins become the transportation of choice. (To be perfectly correct, I'm not sure it is steampunk, because I think the airships are powered with combustion engines, but I don't really care.) This is great fun: adventure, romance, pirates, young man proving himself, hitherto undiscovered flying creatures, ghost ships, a ladder into space. All that good stuff. Fast-paced and imaginative with characters you really care about. Highly recommended.

I also have to mention Oppel's two picture books about Peg. Peg and the Whale and Peg and the Yeti are so cute and upbeat and Peg is such an awesome heroine. Every young girl should have these books on her shelf. (And note the illustrations for Peg and the Yeti: Barbara Reid is so cool!)


  1. I just finished This Dark Endeavor last week, so maybe it's good you didn't post until now! I liked it more than I thought I would-- it was gripping and full of adventure and peril! It's enough to counteract Victor's unlikeable aspects-- which of course he can't be ALL too much likeable anyway, seeing where he ends up.

    I LOVE the Airborn series but haven't gotten my hands on Starclimber yet!

  2. Thanks for your commitment to Canadian books. I'll be checking back often.