Ok seriously now – THE MONSTRUMOLOGIST by Rick Yancey is one of the best books I’ve read in a long time – and by that I’m including books written for people my age 🙂 This book is a must read, but it’s also amust-be-able-to-stomach-gruesome-violence read. It’s the most original creature-feature YA book I’ve read. There should be a hoard of crazed readers following Rick Yancey around – I volunteer to be the first. And the critical acclaim is wonderful (the first book won the Michael L. Printz award from the ALA).
Our narrator is Will Henry, a young boy who has been apprenticed to a monstrumologist (one who studies monsters) Dr. Pellinore Warthrop. The Dr. himself was very Holmesian to me – removed, unable to understand why his assistant needs sleep / food / etc., yet his affection for the boy comes out at odd moments, and in weird, incredibly touching ways. The creature involved here is the Anthropophagi, human-like creatures with no heads whose mouths are located in their torsos – sounds silly, right? Um, it’s not. I won’t try to explain why it’s terrifying – the author does a good enough job on his own, and I don’t want to insult his talent. I will say when a roving pack of Anthrophphagi attack the home of a minister, his wife, and their children I had to put the book down and gather myself for a moment before continuing. The last book I did that with was Joyce Carol Oates’ ZOMBIE so I’m not prone to swooning.
The style of this book is also quite remarkable- the language is nearly Dickensian, yet still navigable by a young reader. I wouldn’t recommend it for a reluctant reader, it’s more for the avid YA teen who is going to be able to use context. A less involved teen is going to give up, although I’d still hand it to a “creature reader” just to see if they’ll slog through the vocabulary for the sake of the story – I think they might!
THE CURSE OF THE WENDIGO is the absolutely stellar sequel. I devoured this book in about four hours. Dr. Warthrop’s old mentor (Von Helrung) has more or less “jumped on the vampire wagon,” (and I got a chuckle out of that, let me tell you) and is insisting that the creatures are real, after having been hired by a writer (he thinks his name was Stroker) to prove that the creatures exist.
The brand of vampire being hunted here is the Canadian backwoods variant – a Wendigo, who feeds only on human flesh and becomes hungrier the more it eats. Like a vampire, the Wendigo can infect a human with a bite and turn them into a Wendigo in turn. Warthrop dismisses all talk of mythological creatures such as vampires and werewolves as being detrimental to the cause of monstrumology, as he believes they do not exist and that a failed mission to locate one will only undermine their credibility.
He is pulled into the case however, when he is visited by his former fiancee – the super hot Muriel – whose husband (previously Warthrop’s best friend and contemporary) has disappeared in the north Canadian wilds while on a hunt for the Wendigo to appease their old mentor, von Helrung.
There are intense themes – parallels of love and death, choices made for good or bad and their finality – extraordinary violence, and (!) the monstrumologist gets to have sex. However, as in the first book, we see everything through the eyes of a naive Will Henry, so unless you can read between the lines, you wouldn’t know it 🙂
Also, I usually find it jarring when authors attempt to weave famous personages into their plot. But Yancey does it well, and with names that aren’t necessarily going to hit you like a lightning bolt – Algernon Blackwood, Jacob Riis, and Bram Stoker to name a few – all appear within the pages of this book, and are woven in well.
The third and final installation in the series, THE ISLE OF BLOOD will be available September 13, 2011 from Simon & Schuster. But I got my grubby little paws on a galley (well, it’s an e-galley, so it’s my e-grubby paws, but you get the point).
Wanna read ’em? I bet so – and guess what? One of my lucky followers won’t have to buy them, or even go to the library. I’ll send both THE MONSTRUMOLOGIST and CURSE OF THE WENDIGO to your front door. All you have to do is be a follower, leave a comment below, and tweet the giveaway – make sure to use my handle @bigblackcat97, so that I know you tweeted. I’ll pick one random winner that gets to be jealous of someone else’s writing talent & be grossed out – for FREE!!