It is no longer possible to escape men. Farewell to the monsters, farewell to the saints. Farewell to pride. All that is left is men.
Jean Paul Sartre
What monster is the most dangerous of all? The one you are sure doesn’t exist. Dr. Pellinore Warthrop, one of few American monstrumologists, and his young assistant, Will Henry, are going to find out that much to their cost.
When Muriel Chanler darkens the door of Warthrop’s humble abode at 425 Harrington Lane Will is instantly smitten with her great looks. Soon enough he learns that this beautiful, sophisticated lady used to be his poor doctor’s fiancée and now she is the wife of his best friend. Ok, his ex-best friend. Muriel asks Warthrop to rescue her husband, who, allegedly, has been captured by a Wendigo or Outico in Canadian wilderness. Wendigo is a mythical creature which, according to the local Indian tribes, starves even as it gorges itself and it eats only human flesh. Although Dr. Warthrop considers the Wendigo to be as fictitious as vampires and zombies, he relents and performs the rescue—only to see the man he used to know as John Chanler transformed beyond recognition into a monster. Is he really becoming a Wendigo, though? If so, can the doctor and Will Henry hunt down the ultimate predator, who, like the legendary vampire, is neither living nor dead, and whose hunger for human flesh is never satisfied?
Meanwhile the small and exclusive world of monstrumology is thrown into disarray by one Abram von Helrung, the former mentor of Warthrop, who intends to drop a kind of bomb-shell in his annual address to the gathered experts at the monstrumology congress in New York. Warthrop feels torn between the old friendship and loyalty towards his ex-master and his own conscience and beliefs…will the case of John Chanler help or hinder his chances of persuading the fellow monstrumologists that Wendigo doesn’t exist?
Quite a lot. Firstly let me assure you that the second installment is indeed better than the first, especially plot-wise. It is a very rare occurrence but, as you see, fully possible. The pace of the narration is far more exciting and the real action starts when usually other adventure stories wrap up – after the seemingly successful rescue of John Chanler.
Secondly the character of Pellinore Warthrop underwent a major development and transformation here, exploding like a firework. We see more glimpses from his younger years. He was a clumsy teacher’s pet. He used to have a girlfriend. His best friend used to play pranks on him. He wanted to be a poet (sic!). He wanted to commit a suicide. Oh dear, what a chest of treasure! Small wonder Will becomes more and more attached to him! Warthrop remains easily the most intriguing character in this part and it can be reflected by an interesting debate between Will Henry and a new friend of his, a girl called Lilly – if Will, who, as he claims, sees himself as Oliver Twist, does that put his mentor in the role of Twist’s kindly benefactor, Mr Brownlow, or the dastardly Jew, Fagin?
Do you remember my carping about the all male cast of The Monstrumologist? It changed too and for the better! Here, you have the enchanting Muriel whose relationship with the monstrumologist makes him look so much more human. You have Lilly, a girl slightly older than Will but as cheeky as you would wish (or not), whom I found a delightful juxtaposition with our young assistant. I do hope that she will feature in future installments of Will’s story. Other great secondary characters abound: Von Helrung (the monstrumologist’s mentor), John Chanler, Sergent Hawk. All of them fully-fledged and well-rounded. Well done!
What’s more? Yancey’s writing is brilliant and the stories he tells in this series are spellbinding. I especially appreciate the recurring philosophical undercurrent, as different characters are asking difficult questions about love, life, death, faith and the rights of women, answering them sometimes in a very funny sometimes in a very macabre way. An example in a form of two quotes:
“You don’t understand, Dr. Warthrop. These people are savages. A man who boasts of killing his own people—boasts of it! Kills them to save them! Tell me what sort of person does that?”
“Well, Sergeant, the God of the Bible leaps immediately to mind. But I shan’t argue the point.”
“They were not so different in the end, the place where he was lost and the place where he was found. They differed only in their topography. The wilderness and the slum were but two faces of the same desolation. The gray land of soul-crushing nothingness in the slum was as bereft of hope as the burned-out snow-packed brûlé of the forest. The denizens of the slums were stalked by the same hunger, preyed upon by predators no less savage than their woodland counterparts. The immigrants lived in squalid tenements, crowded into rooms not much larger than a closet, and their lives were mean and short.”
Also the fact that the author was able to describe the living conditions of 19th century New Yorkers – both the haves and the have-nots – shows that he has made a lot of research concerning the setting of the book and the appropriate era – a round of applause!
What I didn’t like:
I still feel keenly the lack of Mr. Richard Cory aka Jack Kearns, the baddie from the previous part and my favourite…oh well, you can’t have everything, can you? But you can certainly dream…perhaps in the third part?
It is allegedly a YA position but let me tell you that this book is more gory than the first installment. I might even say this time the horror hit me on a much deeper level because it was slightly less substantial although still as bloody as hell. I suppose some readers might struggle with the vivid descriptions of different atrocities committed by the Wendigo; children and women are involved. If you happened to read the ASOIAF series by George Martin and never flinched you would be ok. Anyway you know what to expect.
You don’t need to read “The Monstrumologist” in order to enjoy “The Curse of the Wendigo”; it stands alone quite well. That said, if you enjoyed the first one, you WILL HAVE TO read the second one and the third installment as well. “The Curse of the Wendigo” is still a dark and twisted gore-fest of a book for older teens and adults but also a fascinating journey into human souls…let me only say I have already bought the third part – I am so totally hooked!
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