The Monstrumologist by Rick Yancey
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
The Monstrumologist was an unforgettable read. I can't even imagine how Rick Yancey came up with this idea. I was completely horrified many times, as I read this book. This is a young adult book, but it's not one I'd recommend lightly to just any teen, or adult for that matter. Mr. Yancey doesn't hesitate to make this story gruesome and downright stomach-churning. Due to my biological/medical background, I have a strong stomach. It came in handy when I read this book. There were scenes that I would not want to watch in a movie. Sadly, I think this would be a fantastic movie, as it's very vivid and dynamic; but I would be afraid to watch it, and I think it would have to be R-rated for some of the scenes of extreme violence and gore, which is probably not ideal, since it's a young adult book.
Thankfully, there is a strong story with a compelling set of characters to balance out the unsettling, distasteful scenes. Our protagonist is young Will Henry, an orphan who works as the assistant to an eccentric scientist. His father worked for the doctor before him, and died with his mother in a horrible fire that Will survived. Will says to himself that he never loved the Monstrumologist, but he will never leave him. It's an interesting aspect to this story, Will's devotion to this man, who barely shows him kindness or regard. For the doctor is a cold man, completely devoted to his work as a scientist who studies monsters. His skills come in handy when a group of monsters from any person's worst nightmare begin to wreak havoc on the sleepy New England town of New Jerusalem (I wondered if there was a deliberate reference to Jerusalem's Lot when I read this book). The doctor and Will embark on a quest to seek and destroy these monsters that makes for harrowing reading.
I have to admit that this book had some moments that were hard to read. The anthropophagi are vicious predatory creatures, who view humans as a food source, and they are not sentimental in any way. What they did to the minister's family was just awful. I wanted these monsters found and destroyed, all the while fearing for the lives of Will, the doctor, and his companions.
Gross, gory parts aside, I loved the writing in this story. Mr. Yancey establishes himself very credibly in the historical narrative of this novel. I was immersed in this world, a dark one, set in the late 19th century. In the background, one can see the significant events that would have shaped the characters, such as Darwin's work in evolution, scientific studies in eugenics, and the aftermath of the War Between the States. This is all seen through the eyes of the twelve-year-old narrator, who witnesses things that would cause a grown man to lose sleep. I could not admire Will more. He made my hero to die shelf, because this was one heck of a young man. He goes into the lion's den and into the pit of Hell numerous times to face these horrifying monsters. I could only cheer him along, my heart racing, when he comes face to face with the incredibly vicious matriarch of the group of monsters who have made New Jerusalem their preying grounds.
In reading this book, one has to fortify herself. There are views of human nature that are just as unsettling as the monsters themselves. In fact, the man that the doctor summons to help to hunt and to kill the anthropophagi might be considered a human version of a monster himself. I admit that I found Kearns to be an interesting character. He was very lively, making me laugh a few times. However, he had absolutely no moral center, which made him a very dicey ally. He even has a line where he states that "the only morality is the morality of this moment." Yeah, that makes him a very dangerous man. Good to have against the anthropophage, but not so good if you happen to be standing in the way of his objective. Doctor Warthrop (Will's boss) was a flawed, complicated character. He came off as arrogant and uncaring in many moments, but deeply principled at his core. In fact, Kearns turns out to be a good foil to reveal the positive aspects of his character. I think the doctor cared very much for Will, but was unable to show it in the ways that we would consider most demonstrative of affection. He had so many issues with his own father, that it warped him emotionally. However, it was apparent that Will was very important to him--his companion, and the only person who cared for and about the doctor. This made their relationship very complex, and in my opinion, the core of this story.
The Monstrumologist is a book that is quite hard to categorize and to explain in a few words. There is so much to this story. Yet, it's not one that the casual reader will enjoy. It's too dark and gruesome for that. But for an intrepid reader, there is much to admire and to appreciate in this book. After this book gets started, it doesn't wind down until it's over. It was a fascinating, powerful read, one I won't forget. Even now, it is lurking in the back of my mind like a shadow.
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