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YA Horror Review: Isle of Blood (Monstrumologist 03) by Rick Yancey

Synopsis:

Pellinore Warthrop is sent from England a very strange object, called a ‘nidus’ or nest. Allegedly it is made by one of the most unique monsters on earth, a kind of a dragon called Typhoeus Magnificum, aka the “Holy Grail of Monstrumology”, a creature so elusive nobody has seen it dead or alive yet. Its nest is also very toxic to humans – a mere touch and you are infected. Small wonder the unwilling courier who brought it to the doctor falls ill and has to be killed. As you can guess it was not a normal illness and it is highly contagious. Before he dies he attacks poor Will and the boy loses his index finger – well, better that than lose your sanity and life, right?

Doctor Warthrop, definitely shaken by the fact that he had to chop off his faithful apprentice’s finger with a butcher’s knife to save him, this time decides to go to London with somebody else. It happens a perfect companion presents itself as if conjured out of thin air – his name is Thomas Arkwright, he reveres Warthrop as the biggest monstrumologist alive, he knows pretty much about monsters, he is young, fit and eager. Frantic Will is left behind with von Helrung’s niece and her family. It seems he has finally a chance to enjoy a normal life but the situation is unacceptable to him from the very start. Will looks for a way to join his doctor because he clearly thinks he doesn’t belong anywhere but by his side.


Soon enough, unable to rest and fueled by the logical reasoning Warthrop has thaught him, Will finds out that Arkwright is most probably not the man he claimed to be. Then a message comes from England, announcing Warthrop’s death…and Arkwright returns alone, with a clearly made-up story of Pellinore’s demise. After an interrogation session no real agent would be ashamed of, Von Helrung, Will and another monstrumologist, called Torrance form a rescue team and go to London to investigate. What will they find? Monsters, as usual, but what monsters? Will’s journey will take him even further, to Socotra, the Isle of Blood, where human beings are used to make nests and blood rains from the sky. Will his loyalty, bravery and humanity pass the ultimate test?

What I liked:

Forget the “Young Adult” categorization as in this case it is very misleading. I am an adult female reader who doesn’t like most of YA fiction and I loved these books, finding them definitely more suited for older audience. Rick Yancey’s Monstrumologist series is one of the masterpieces but, like such books, it defies pigeonholing. Let me only tell you that it should appeal to anyone who loves great storytelling and is not too squeamish when it comes to gory details. I loved the monsters populating these books and I couldn’t avert my eyes even when bits and pieces of human bodies flied around in the form of a blood rain.

There is one more thing. Reading the third part of this series I had a very strange feeling because every wish I expressed after previous parts came true. After the second part I wanted to see Jack/John Kearns/Cory again and here you go, Kearns is back in a peripheral but vital role as a prankster and hunter extraordinaire. I wanted to have more female characters and we get the intrepid Mrs Bates, who dares to sing Will lullabies, and her daughter Lilly, who dares to kiss him and gives him her photo. I enjoyed the philosophical undercurrents and here we get more of it as well. It was as if the author communicated with me beforehand. Weird, to say the least of it. I’ve never enjoyed such a phenomenon before.

The character of Will is in the main focus of the third part. The relations between him and his master have never been more complex. Will finally understands why his services are so “indispensable” to Warthrop; their mutual bond is one of the most compelling dynamics I’ve found in contemporary books.

The boy has grown up and I don’t mean only physical development. He thinks and plans on his own. He can stand up to the doctor and anyone else, taking independent, sometimes very difficult decisions. Of course at some levels he still remains a child – a child feeling very lonely and bereft to add – but he can overcome his weaknesses. The writer uses different adults in the story to give us impressions of what Will Henry might become, depending on his choices. Will he be like Mr. Bates, a successful financier and a proper gentleman with his little, happy family? Will he be one of the cold, calculating monster hunters who delight in the game of killing more than anything else? Will he be one of the scholars working behind the scenes and hoarding over the treasures of the monstrumologist secret society? Finally, will he become a ruthless monster like Kearns or a more humane monster like Warthrop?

The Isle of Blood, just like the other Monstrumologist novels, begins with the frame of Yancey editing a collection of folios written by the real Will Henry about his adventures. But this time, the investigation becomes more personal than ever – our tenacious narrator digs deeper into Will Henry’s life and tries to figure out exactly who and what he was. There are scenes that will shock the reader that are made even more powerful as they are seen through Will’s ever observant but so youthful eyes.

Let me also say how much I appreciated the fact that Arthur Conan Doyle and especially Arthur Rimbaud were among the secondary characters of this book!

What I didn’t like:

???

Final verdict:

There is not a dull sentence to be found in any one of the three novels but if you prefer maudlin teen romance novels, stay away; this series is not for you. Where is the fourth part btw? I know the author has planned it and I will preorder it asap. Can a reader pay a bigger compliment than begging for more?
“We are hunters all. We are, all of us, monstrumologists”. I quite agree – I’ve just bagged some great books…

Some quotes to share the joy:

“Miss Marks, you see, makes her living by… entertaining young, and not so young, sailors…or any other members of the armed forces, or civilians, who enjoy…being entertained by ladies who…entertain.” He cleared his throat.” (isn’t Warthrop, discussing the oldest profession with his young apprentice, a sweetie?)

“”What did I learn, sir?” The breeze was delicious upon my face. I could smell the sea. “I learned a poet doesn’t stop being a poet simply because he stops writing poetry.””

“I don’t know if you are a spiritual man but – “
“Not often,” said the monstrumologist, urging Conan Doyle toward the lobby doors. “Hardly ever. No – just once. I was three or four and my mother caught me deep in a conversation with God.” He shrugged. “I have no memory of it. God might.”


Books in Series

The Monstrumologist
The Curse of the Wendigo 
Isle of Blood

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YA Horror Fantasy Review: ‘The Curse of the Wendigo’ by Rick Yancey (The Monstrumologist #2)

Synopsis:

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?


What I liked:

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?

Warning:

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.

Final verdict:

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!

Books in Series

The Monstrumologist
The Curse of the Wendigo 
Isle of Blood

YA Horror Fantasy Review: ‘The Monstrumologist’ (#01) by Richard Yancey

Synopsis:


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.

Final verdict:
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

The Monstrumologist
The Curse of the Wendigo 
Isle of Blood

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