That’s how over-the-top shivery and scary this riveting gothic tale is. Do you like monsters? Check. How about violence? Double-check!
You won’t be able to look away! Even when you’re covered in gore!
The Monstrumologist is told through the eyes of 12-year-old Will Henry, who serves as the hapless but ever-stalwart assistant of Dr. Pellinore Warthrop in the New England town of New Jerusalem. Warthrop calls himself a doctor of philosophy, which would be accurate if by “philosophy” you really meant “things that go bump in the night.”
One spring night in 1888, a grave robber deposits a grisly find on the doctor’s doorstep. To say what, exactly, the creature is would be to deprive you of the same shock, horror and disgust that both Will Henry and I felt as it was unveiled. Suffice to say Yancey does not subscribe to the current trend of vampires, werewolves and zombies.
The discovery of the dead creature sets in motion a race against time. Warthrop suspects more of them survive and if so, the people of New Jerusalem are in grave danger. This leads to Warthrop taking drastic measures, including inviting a fellow monstrumologist, John Kearns — though Warthrop’s morals may be questionable at times, we come to learn Kearns is devoid of a moral compass at all. Mayhem and carnage ensue.
Yancey does an excellent job of weaving an atmosphere of tension and dread and then punctuating it with brutal, detailed scenes of bloodshed:
"The massively muscled forearm followed, rotated ninety degrees, and the next second found Burns’s head buried in the grip of the huge claw. With a sickening pop the beast tore his head completely off his shoulders and yanked it back through the hole punched through his heaving gut."You have to hand it to the man. Yancey’s creative even in his descriptions of butchery.
Those scenes, however, ensure that this book is not for the faint of heart. Better yet, you should probably have a strong stomach, too. As I mentioned in my last post, I’m trying to read all the books on the 2011 Lone Star Reading List. The Monstrumologist is on that list. I definitely have to give props to the Texas Library Association's Young Adult Round Table for putting together such a diverse selection. This novel was my first taste of horror and I find I rather like it.
What I like about this book is that you come to care for its main characters, which ratchets up your fear for their survival amidst such depictions of slaughter. Will Henry is an earnest boy who’s seen far more than any boy — or any man — should have to see. But he remains stubbornly devoted to the doctor, realizing he truly has no one else and that the same case applies to the doctor.
Warthrop, for his part, doesn’t do much to dispel the mad-scientist stereotype. His mania for monsters goes hand-in-hand with his absentmindedness: obsessively focused on his hellish hunt while caring little for the prosaic details of day-to-day life like eating. Even then, we find sympathy for him as we learn a little of his background and the terribly legacy left to him by his monstrumologist father.
The story's most intriguing conflict does not revolve around the monster's rapaciousness but rather the cruelty of man. There are shocking instances of inhumanity and mercilessness among the novel's human characters, requiring readers ask themselves, "Who really is the monster?"