An elderly resident of an old people’s home called William James Henry, dies in his sleep. He claimed he was born in 1876 which would make him a 131-year old man in the moment of his death but nobody believes him. His notebooks are lent to the narrator/the author.
That’s how, after a short intro, we are plunged into a story within a story, featuring a first person narration of younger Will Henry who describes one event that shaped his entire life. Will was an orphan, taken in by Pellinore Warthrop (guess why Warthrop was given such a strange first name and you will find out a lot about him), a man of wealth, a scientist, a doctor and the titular Monstrumologist. He felt responsible for the boy as he used to employ Will’s father and they were friends. Will works for the doctor in a capacity of a personal assistant and a servant.
One day a grave robber visits doctor Warthrop, showing him his unusual find – two bodies, one of a young girl and the second not quite human, intertwined in a kind of embrace. Doctor is known for a particular interest in different oddities and he usually pays for such curio well. It turns out the grave robber happened to dig out a predator called anthropophagus and his unlucky victim. The dissection of both bodies leads to very alarming conclusions – in short it seems that there are more Anthropophagi around and the whole population of New Jerusalem is being endangered. How have such monsters wandered to the USA, though, as they can’t either swim or fly and their original habitat is situated in hot, faraway places like Africa or New Zealand?
Doctor Warthrop and his young assistant will have to solve that mystery really post haste – soon enough a pastor and almost his whole family are slaughtered by the hungry monsters. The local authorities are anxious to stop anthropophagi at all cost but will they manage to do it on their own? What will be discovered in the process?
What I liked:
Despite all these monsters, blood, slaughter and intestines flying around it is not a scenario for any Hollywood B movie (well, perhaps after dumbing it down a lot…). It is a slightly philosophical story, best summarized by these two Nietzsche quotes:
“Battle not with monsters, lest ye become a monster, and if you gaze into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.”
In other words leave the monsters alone and…let them kill you and yours as they please?
“All things are subject to interpretation; whichever interpretation prevails at a given time is a function of power and not truth.”
Hmmm…no politician would be ashamed of such a statement…
Anthropophagi, as presented here, originated in works of Herodotus and Pliny the Elder. I always appreciate when the author bases his story on ancient texts and does it in an intelligent manner – the effects are more often than not interesting, at least to me. Let me also assure you that the anthropophagi (literally man eaters) are hardly the biggest monsters around. The worst baddies, as usual, are humans, particularly one man. A very handsome and intelligent man to boot, called dr. Jack Kearns or Richard Cory (among other names he uses and not without a very good reason). Let me present him in more detail – the quote below is his description from the novel:
“He was quite tall, well over six feet, the man standing on the doctor’s doorstep, athletic of build and handsome in a boyish way, with rather fine features and stylishly long flaxen hair. His eyes were an odd shade of gray; in the glittering lamplight they appeared nearly black, but later, when I saw them in daylight, his eyes took on a softer shade, the ashy gray of charcoal dust or the hue of an ironclad warship. He wore a traveling cloak and gloves, riding boots and a homburg hat set at a rakish angle. His mustache was small and neatly trimmed, golden like his mane of hair, so diaphanous it appeared to float above his full and sensuous lips.”
If his physique made you think he must still be somehow a positive character, you are in for a very big surprise. The man is deeply immoral, maybe even a psychopath. He is also nice to look at (even according to other men), very fit, undoubtedly well-muscled, intelligent, cynical, witty, and cunning. If only he cares he can daze you with his pearl-white smile, straight from a toothpaste ad, and entertain you with his educated banter. Yes, he can quote the Bible and Shakespeare from memory, he knows Nietzsche personally and he claims he’s influenced some of his theories. You definitely shouldn’t judge him by appearances, though, and only at the very end you find out enough facts about him to form a viable and definitely negative opinion. Without spoiling you the pleasure of such discovery let me just say I wouldn’t leave my dog in the tender care of such an individual – not even for a minute or two. The construction of such a character is not easy and this one was extremely well done, I really haven’t met a more enticing and more dangerous baddie for a long time, especially in a YA book. Lonely and obsessed dr. Warthrop and poor, young and equally lonely Will pale in comparison but of course they would be a far safer and nicer company.
What’s more? The book was highly readable, the narration flowing smoothly, its pace lively and well-planned. All mysteries were solved and nicely tucked away at the end but still I think there is a sequel and of course I would like to read it even without any ugly cliffhanger.
What I didn’t like:
Just one complaint – the book didn’t feature one single female character worth mentioning. Women are positioned only in the background as decorations or props. I know that we speak here about a backwater society from 19th century but still…I wish there was one strong woman presented among all these men.
Despite the fact that Mr. Yancey didn’t hesitate to make this story gruesome and in places downright stomach-churning I enjoyed it very much indeed. I loved the characters, I loved the writing and the philosophical undercurrent of the novel; it was really surprising it was published as a YA horror story. I would like to read the rest of the series now!
Books in Series