Justin's Reviews > The Monstrumologist

The Monstrumologist by Rick Yancey
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's review
May 12, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: horror, gothic, young-adult
Read from May 12 to June 09, 2012

Man-eating monsters! Grave robbers! Senseless violence! Worm infestations! Victorian manners! This Printz honor book is purported to have it all, and indeed it does. In fact, I’d argue that it has almost a little too much. Despite the occasional slouching towards gratuitousness, though, this is an extraordinarily fun book if you like monsters and don’t mind some gore.

The book is presented as a three-volume diary of one Will Henry, who served as the young apprentice to a New England “Monstrumologist,” Dr. Pellinore Warthrop, in the late 19th century. The folios recount a particular instance when a new “project” landed on Warthrop’s doorstep: a marauding pack of anthropophagi, a huge, cunning, and merciless variety of predator that normally resides in Africa. Ever the dutiful assistant, Will Henry follows Dr. Warthrop (along with a mysterious English colleague of the doctor’s) from their macabre laboratory to a lonely cemetery, a stinking asylum, and even into the bowels of the earth hunting the monsters, even as innocent bystanders are ruthlessly torn apart and eaten during the search. The mystery of the anthropophagi, however, may lead a lot closer than the distant savannas of Benin.

The ambiance of the story is perfect, and there is a wonderful interplay between the affected gentlemanliness of Warthrop, the distinctly Dickensian Will Henry, and the truly nightmarish scenarios they inhabit. The resulting mood of the book is slow-burning and genuinely tense, without ever (in my opinion) getting boring. The prose does get a little flowery when Will Henry ruminates on the nature of his mentor, or tries to make sense of the horrific things he has to experience. Then again, that makes sense, given the idea that this story is supposedly a journal transcription. Besides, I’m a vocabulary nerd, and Yancey’s writing is evocative and beautifully constructed, so I can forgive the frequent journeys into exposition.

This is not a book for young or squeamish readers, though. Even forewarned as I was, the level of gore in the book surprised me. I don’t necessarily have a problem with the depictions of the anthropophagus attacks, as their ferocity lent a sense of bloody urgency to the gothic atmosphere of the story. But some of the other scenes- the fate of Hezekiah Varner, the lingering over the deaths of young children, and the weird fixation on literal and metaphorical virgin sacrifices, for instance - seem to veer into the territory of shock for shock’s sake, which always strikes me as a little lazy (and has me mourning the current state of horror cinema).

That being said, though, Yancey treads the line between fun and over-the-top very well. While things occasionally get ridiculous, the entire story is deadly earnest, and there are plot reasons (or, at least, solid thematic writing) behind every bit of violence. I had a great time reading it, and while I’m not lying awake at night, I’m still thinking about some of the climactic moments. This is a great read for horror fans, teen or adult, that aren’t afraid of being revolted.
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