Title: The Monstrumologist
Author: Rick Yancey
Genre: Young Adult, Horror
Publisher: Simon & Schuster (US & UK)
Publication Date: September 2009 (US)/October 2009 (UK)
Hardcover: 448 pages (US)
Stand alone or series: First novel in what appears to be a planned trilogy (or at least duology)
How did I get this book: Review Copy from the publisher
Why did I read this book: On a totally superficial note, the US cover won me over instantly. I saw it in the bookstore, hadn’t heard anything about it and immediately was drawn to its eerie vibe. When I read the blurb, I was even more convinced that I needed to read this book. Stat.
Summary: (from Amazon.com)
These are the secrets I have kept. This is the trust I never betrayed.
But he is dead now and has been for more than forty years, the one who gave me his trust, the one for whom I kept these secrets.
The one who saved me…and the one who cursed me.
So begins the journal of Will Henry, orphaned assistant to Dr. Pellinore Warthrop, a man with a most unusual specialty: monstrumology, the study of monsters. In his time with the doctor, Will has met many a mysterious late-night visitor, and seen things he never imagined were real. But when a grave robber comes calling in the middle of the night with a gruesome find, he brings with him their most deadly case yet.
Critically acclaimed author Rick Yancey has written a gothic tour de force that explores the darkest heart of man and monster and asks the question: When does a man become the very thing he hunts?
The Monstrumologist is a tale within a tale – it is the posthumous story of a man named Will Henry, who claims to have been over one hundred and thirty years old before he died. After his passing, a collection of his meticulously detailed journal are discovered in his retirement home, and interested in discovering more about the strange man who was Will Henry, the director of the home passes the journals along to a local author – The Monstrumologist is the publication of the first three of Will Henry’s journals.
Our story proper begins in 1888, in the small New England city of New Jerusalem. Twelve year old Will is an orphan after the untimely death of his mother and father in a perilous blaze. With no where else to turn, he is taken in by his father’s former employer, Dr. Pellinore Warthrop, monstrumologist. Life with Warthrop is anything but easy, as the self-absorbed doctor makes many, at times impossible demands of his young apprentice. But one fateful night when the caretaker from the local graveyard comes seeking the doctor’s help, life for young Will Henry plunges into a blood-drenched nightmare of unfathomable monstrosities. The caretaker brings the monstrumologist “an abomination” – the cold, dead remains of a recently buried young woman…in the claws and fangs of a dead, unspeakable monster. The creature, an Anthropophagus, is one that is very familiar to the monstrumologist from his studies, though Will has never seen such a creature before. Tall and muscular, the anthropophagi are humanoid in form, save that they are headless – their small flat eyes are on their shoulders, and their torsos are dominated by a mouth of razor sharp, sharklike teeth. As for the anthropophagi’s sole source of food? Human flesh. The doctor and Will soon learn that New Jerusalem is infested with an unthinkable population of the anthropophagi – who are native to the African continent and not to be found in the New World, according to all of Warthrop’s studies – and it is up to them to figure out not only how the monsters reached the Americas, but also to stop them before they multiply and devour the good people of the town.
I have never read Rick Yancey’s work before, though he is a well established author of young adult literature, best known for his Alfred Kropp titles. As such, I wasn’t sure what to expect from The Monstrumologist, besides its promising premise and admittedly gorgeous US cover. And, what can I say? I was blown away by this book. Not only is The Monstrumologist a superior horror novel with immense crossover appeal, packing in enough gore and viscera (but never in a cheesy or overly-gratuitous way) to please the horror following, but also telling a damn fine story with wonderful plot developments, deep characters, and impeccable world-building.
At first glance, The Monstrumologist seems a straightforward, Monster-of-the-Week special. And, to a superficial extent, it is. The overall conflict of the book is pretty simple – unthinkably dangerous, ravenous monsters must be stopped before they take over the east coast, boy and doctor fight to stop the spread. And yet, this brief synopsis does The Monstrumologist a grave disservice. For this novel is also a tale about a lonely, desperate boy looking for a mentor and stability, just as it is also the story of a man so damaged and egotistical that he puts his own theories and studies before the greater good. It would have been easy for Mr. Yancey to have written this book as a ‘boy finds a father figure in an aloof man who is only aloof because his own father was distant’ sort of story – but he doesn’t. Mr. Yancey’s characters go beyond this simplistic trope, daring to create layered, at times unlikable (even repulsive) characters. One such character is the monstrumologist himself, Pellinore Winthrope. A man so set on his own opinions and absorbed in his own ego and rightness, his decisions cost the town of New Jerusalem dearly – and yet, Mr. Yancey shows humanity and sympathy for this character, revealing his childhood and his own need to exonerate his name from the legacy of his past.
The most intriguing character, of course, has to be the narrator – young, keen, observant Will Henry. As the journals were written when Will was a much older man, his twelve year old voice is colored by his older self. But surprisingly, this strengthens his narrative as it blends his innocent naivete with older, wiser foreshadowing. It also makes him an unreliable narrator at times, as readers wonder whether or not his memories are tainted by later events. As a young man, Will Henry is a hero the caliber of the Harry Potters and Oliver Twists of the literary realm – he captures your heart, your sympathies, your dreams and fears by virtue of his honesty and his bravery in the face of hopelessness. Young Will Henry’s loyalty and open trust is something to be admired by readers of all ages, and I was instantly smitten with him.
As for the writing and the story itself, Mr. Yancey has a gift for detail and a writerly authority that is rarely seen in young adult novels. He manages to bring 1888 alive, embracing the Victorian Era language and ideals fully in The Monstrumologist. Mr. Yancey manages to capture an understanding of the current science and sentiments of the era, as the monstrumologist and his colleagues discuss eugenics, classic theology and literature. Of course, there are also the horrific elements and bloodthirsty horror fans will not be bored at all with this novel. There are enough bloody descriptions to sate and engage even the most reluctant reader – but as the best works in the genre do, underlaying all the gore, Mr. Yancey gives a strong, beating heart to this story.
Simply put, this is one of the best horror novels I’ve read this year, and I cannot wait for more Will Henry. If only the next collection of his journals were published already…In the words of the monstrumologist, snap to, Mr. Yancey! Snap to.
Notable Quotes/Parts: From the first chapter:
“A Singular Curiosity”
These are the secrets I have kept. This is the trust I never betrayed.
But he is dead now and has been for more than forty years, the one who gave me his trust, the one for whom I kept these secrets.
The one who saved me…and the one who cursed me.
I can’t recall what I had for breakfast this morning, but I remember with nightmarish clarity that spring night in 1888 when he roused me roughly from my slumber, his hair unkempt, eyes wide and shining in the lamplight, the excited glow upon his finely chiseled features, one with which I had, unfortunately, become intimately acquainted.
“Get up! Get up, Will Henry, and be quick about it!” he said urgently. “We have a caller!”
“A caller?” I murmured in reply. “What time is it?”
“A little after one. Now get dressed and meet me at the back door. Step lively, Will Henry, and snap to!”
He withdrew from my little alcove, taking the light with him. I dressed in the dark and scampered down the ladder in my stocking feet, putting on the last of my garments, a soft felt hat a size too small for my twelve-year-old head. That little hat was all I had left from my life before coming to live with him, and so it was precious to me.
He had lit the jets along the hall of the upper floor, though but a single light burned on the main floor, in the kitchen at the rear of the old house where just the two of us lived, without so much as a maid to pick up after us: The doctor was a private man, engaged in a dark and dangerous business, and could ill afford the prying eyes and gossiping tongue of the servant class. When the dust and dirt became intolerable, about every three months or so, he would press a rag and a bucket into my hands and tell me to “snap to” before the tide of filth overwhelmed us.
I followed the light into the kitchen, my shoes completely forgotten in my trepidation. This was not the first nocturnal visitor since my coming to live with him the year before. The doctor had numerous visits in the wee hours of the morning, more than I cared to remember, and none were cheerful social calls. His business was dangerous and dark, as I have said, and so, on the whole, were his callers.
The one who called on this night was standing just outside the back door, a gangly, skeletal figure, his shadow rising wraithlike from the glistening cobblestones. His face was hidden beneath the broad brim of his straw hat, but I could see his gnarled knuckles protruding from his frayed sleeves, and knobby yellow ankles the size of apples below his tattered trousers. Behind the old man a broken-down nag of a horse stamped and snorted, steam rising from its quivering flanks. Behind the horse, barely visible in the mist, was the cart with its grotesque cargo, wrapped in several layers of burlap.
The doctor was speaking quietly to the old man as I came to the door, a comforting hand upon his shoulder, for clearly our caller was nearly mad with panic. He had done the right thing, the doctor was assuring him. He, the doctor, would take the matter from here. All would be well. The poor old soul nodded his large head, which appeared all the larger with its lid of straw as it bobbed on its spindly neck.
“‘Tis a crime. A bloody crime of nature!” he exclaimed at one point. “I shouldn’t have taken it; I should have covered it back up and left it to the mercy of God!”
“I take no stances on theology, Erasmus,” said the doctor. “I am a scientist. But is it not said that we are his instruments? If that is the case, then God brought you to her and directed you hence to my door.”
“So you won’t report me?” the old man asked, with a sideways glance toward the doctor.
“Your secret will be as safe with me as I hope mine will be with you. Ah, here is Will Henry. Will Henry, where are your shoes? No, no,” he said as I turned to fetch them. “I need you to ready the laboratory.”
“Yes, doctor,” I responded dutifully, and turned to go a second time.
“And put a pot on. It’s going to be a long night.”
“Yes, sir,” I said. I turned a third time.
“And find my boots, Will Henry.”
“Of course, sir.”
I hesitated, waiting for a fourth command. The old man called Erasmus was staring at me.
“Well, what are you waiting for?” the doctor said. “Snap to, Will Henry!”
“Yes, sir,” I said. “Right away, sir!”
I left them in the alley, hearing the old man ask as I hurried across the kitchen, “He is your boy?”
“He is my assistant,” came the doctor’s reply.
You can read a full excerpt online HERE.
In addition to being one gorgeously written book, The Monstrumologist comes in a beautiful package. Not only is the US cover gorgeous, but the inner pages of the book are occasionally decorated with beautiful illustrations (this applies to the UK version as well, though the cover is lamentably different). Check out some of the art:
Really cool stuff. And, equally cool is the book trailer, below:
There’s also a lovely book website to check out, HERE.
Verdict: Absolutely recommended to readers of all ages and genre preferences – there’s enough goodness here to go around for everyone.
Rating: 8 – Excellent
Reading Next: The Harrowing by Alexandra Sokoloff
Courtesy of Simon & Schuster UK, we are giving away FIVE copies of The Monstrumologist and The Hollow by Jessica Verday. Each winner will receive a copy of BOTH books. The contest is open to residents of the UK, United States and Canada and will run until Saturday, October 31st at 11:59 PM (Pacific). In order to enter, tell us what monster you’d fearlessly face down to save the world. Good luck!
Vik FoxOctober 25, 2009 at 11:48 am
I would totally face down almost anything (except an Illithid or 28 Days Later-ish zombie). I’m fearless (almost) like that! 😀
In other notes: If I keep reading your reviews I shall never have enough money (or time) to apply to grad school. Thank you for that.
CeliaOctober 25, 2009 at 11:48 am
Erm…giant mutant spiders or a werewolf. Hope those count as ‘monsters.’ I might wet my pants doing it, but if it’s for, you know, the fate of the world and stuff… 🙂
GinnyOctober 25, 2009 at 11:50 am
Sully from Monsters, Inc. That’s not wimpy, right? He was freaky when he came out of the closet! Thanks!
danielleOctober 25, 2009 at 11:53 am
I totally agree about The Monstrumologist. Loved it! Haven’t read the Hollow, though. Please enter me!
danielleOctober 25, 2009 at 11:56 am
Ooops, forgot. Who’d I face down? Hm…Kurt from Glee. I think I can take him.
Sara (The Hiding Spot)October 25, 2009 at 12:05 pm
I’d fearlessly face down a kraken to save the world!
JenPOctober 25, 2009 at 12:34 pm
Godzilla. I could take him 🙂
Robyn BOctober 25, 2009 at 12:34 pm
Hmm…I would face down these two monsters Ann Coulter or Bill O’Reilly 😆
Traditional monster, I most likely would be able to take down….vampires.
IndigoOctober 25, 2009 at 12:40 pm
Monsters I could face down? Werewolves, after all there is a hurt pup inside them all that just needs to be wanted.
I could probably face down the swamp thing too. He just wants to be co-exist in his bog and be accepted for his scaly outer appearance.
Thanks for the opportunity! Indigo
Sara MOctober 25, 2009 at 1:25 pm
I’d face down a werewolves to save the world. I’ve read The Hollow already, but I like the UK cover so much more than the US cover. Haven’t read the Monstrumologist, although I’ve been eyeing it at the bookstore…
CaitOctober 25, 2009 at 1:36 pm
I think I’d be brave enough to face down a mummy, or a zombie. Possibly those worm-creatures from the Tremors movies (as long as I had some fire power) =P
I Heart Book GossipOctober 25, 2009 at 1:58 pm
I would be a giant gloop monster from Monsters vs Aliens.
cindyc725 at gmail dot com
RKCharronOctober 25, 2009 at 2:17 pm
Hi Ana & Thea 🙂
Wow. That was a great indepth review. I loved the inclusion of the artwork, covers, excerpt and trailer. I hadn’t heard of Rick Yancey before, thanks for introducing him to me.
I’d fearlessly facedown Chucky!
All the best,
SandraOctober 25, 2009 at 4:03 pm
I would totally face down the alien from Signs. You know, the ones that are allergic to water. Coz I’m kind of a chicken. Unless they were threatening my family. Then look out, mama bear is gonna kick your hiney! 👿
Jen D.October 25, 2009 at 4:24 pm
I think I could fearlessly(ish) face down a zombie (as in a slow, sluggish Night of the Living Dead zombie and not a vicious, crazy-eyed, Olympic sprinter 28 Days Later zombie).
Thanks for the great book review and contest! Count me in.
MonicaOctober 25, 2009 at 5:24 pm
I would take one for the team and totally face down a vampire. 😉
Lindsay TallmanOctober 25, 2009 at 5:42 pm
if i had to face down any monster it would have to be a dragon.
Samantha ROctober 25, 2009 at 5:49 pm
To save the world, eh? Hmmmm, I guess that’d be a Yeti. Why not? 😀
Shwna LewisOctober 25, 2009 at 5:53 pm
I would Hunt down Beast or anything that wants to do harm to my Family!!!! For bad things and or monsters need to be caught so no more harm can be done. Thanks for this giveaway!!! Happy Halloween 😀
Acacia PhillipsOctober 25, 2009 at 5:56 pm
Oh I have wanted to read both these books so much thanks for this wonderful chance to win not 1 but both!!!!
If something was after someone I know then yes I would go after them!!!
Blair W.October 25, 2009 at 6:04 pm
Am a Father & Husband I would do EVERTHING in my power to save those that I Love Dear from ALL that bring threat to them!!!!
These books would be just perfect for this time of year thanks you for letting me enter into it.
Kenna J McMurtreyOctober 25, 2009 at 6:14 pm
Kenna J McMurtrey
I would not let anyone harm my family & I would hunt them down and have them put behind bars so they can never hurt anyone else again.
Thanks for this neat giveaway both od these books look really good.
CourtneyOctober 25, 2009 at 6:31 pm
I would face down a mummy. I mean really its just boney dead person in toilet paper.
Miss MarjieOctober 25, 2009 at 6:33 pm
I would face down the ghost of Foucault even if he were armed with a panopticon, a litter of deceptive kittens with poisoned teeth, and a retractable eye-poker. I’m just that kind of a girl.
Kimberly B.October 25, 2009 at 7:13 pm
I could probably take down Grover. Not Cookie Monster, because I am powerful against the mighty cookie, but Grover? That guy gets on my nerves!
KatieOctober 25, 2009 at 7:13 pm
The Cloverfield monster. Though I’m pretty sure I’d have to have radioactive powers to take something that large down. But it’d be an epic win!
Nikki OOctober 25, 2009 at 7:33 pm
I’d totally take on the Daleks. Suckers don’t stand a chance.
Sharon KOctober 25, 2009 at 7:34 pm
The Stay Puff Marshmallow Man from Ghost Busters. I think I could take him, maybe. 😕
Jenn ROctober 25, 2009 at 8:15 pm
I would face down a giant spider like in Harry Potter, even though I am terrified of spiders!!
BethOctober 25, 2009 at 8:30 pm
Hmm! How about Chucky? 🙂
BethsBookReviewBlog AT gmail DOT com
Donna SOctober 25, 2009 at 9:17 pm
They both look great.
I would totally take down a zombie. (We can have any weapon of choice right? 🙂 Flamethrower and axe please)
bridget3420October 25, 2009 at 9:18 pm
I would face Darth Vader
Katee R.October 25, 2009 at 10:55 pm
To save the world? I’d face down damn near anything … as long as it’s not Chucky. That creepy doll scares the crap out of me. But I would definitely kill a bunch of zombies or a wolfman or two.
rosieOctober 26, 2009 at 3:11 am
Thing.. from the Adam’s family
da da da dum click click
StephanieOctober 26, 2009 at 3:12 am
OH….to save the world, I’d probably face down most anything. Except for zombies. Like the really fast, run-after-you-and-eat-your-flesh type zombies. They kind of freak me out.
Colleen McKieOctober 26, 2009 at 3:29 am
The State Puff Man from Ghostbusters. I’m a bit of a wimp and figured if all else failed I could always invite my friends over for the world’s biggest marshmallow roast! 🙄
Elaine GOctober 26, 2009 at 6:10 am
I would face down anyone or anything,as long as I had a gun and a very big knife.And maybe a few very large muscular men.Ok maybe not:lol: ..I would if it small squirrely like.I could handly that. 🙂
AmandaOctober 26, 2009 at 6:37 am
I would totally face down multiple zombies thereby saving myself and my friends from the zombie apocalypse.
MiaOctober 26, 2009 at 6:38 am
I want to say I would fearlessly fight an evil clown to save the world, but that would be a lie. If a clown tried to end the world and I was the one who had to stop it the world would be doomed.
Cthulu, on the other hand, I would deliver a huge beat down on to save the world. At least, I would try. Then I would probably die horribly and the world would end anyway…maybe I should just stick with making sure Mogwais don’t become Gremlins.
JessiekayOctober 26, 2009 at 7:10 am
Gotta tell ya. I’m a big pansy, the world is on it’s own. 😯
AikOctober 26, 2009 at 7:20 am
I would face down zombies to save the world!
StacyOctober 26, 2009 at 7:45 am
I would face down a very slow zombie to save the world 🙂
The Book VixenOctober 26, 2009 at 7:56 am
I think the only monster I’d be able to fearlessly fight would be a vampire. I’d win him over with my vixen ways 😉
Andrea C.October 26, 2009 at 8:16 am
I would totally fight the Monster That Lives Under My Bed (That’s its full name but usually its The Monster for short or just AAAAARGH!!!!). In fact, I must have been fighting it for years because the snuffling, snorting, toe-nibbling beast has been under my bed as long as I can remember and the world’s still here (isn’t it?).
Wow, I’m like a superhero or something – I beat that sucker up!
Surely that deserves an entry (maybe even a win) in your fantastic book give away?
P.S. Don’t tell The Monster what I said – we don’t want to make him angry
Teresa W.October 26, 2009 at 9:35 am
Zombies are usually pretty slow so thats what I would face down!
GinaOctober 26, 2009 at 9:58 am
What monster I’d fearlessly face down….umm…scary prospect there. Oooh, I know! Edward Cullen from the Twilight series..he’s technically a ‘monster’ right? Okay, so if that doesn’t work, how about that big red hairy monster from the old Bugs Bunny cartoons, I’m pretty sure I could out run him and lock him in Marvin the Martian space ship to safe the day…
(OH and enter me in the contest please!)
TJ MathewsOctober 26, 2009 at 10:18 am
Does Rush Limbaugh count? I could take him.
AmandaOctober 26, 2009 at 10:56 am
I’d fight a zombie, I’m thinking I could take one out. (this would also serve to justify all the zombie books I’ve read & movies I’ve watched)
AdrienneOctober 26, 2009 at 11:41 am
What monster, you say? Ugh…I have to go with the monster in SK’s It…I slept with the lights on for a week and looked under the bed and started hearing giggling out of my drains 😯 So I would face that monster down to save the world! And that is saying a lot… 😀
Count me in for the give away
Rosie CarloOctober 26, 2009 at 12:01 pm
I would fearlessly try to face the creatures in I am Legend (the one with Will Smith). I’d be scared to death, but I’d give it my best shot.
Thanks for the contest!
rosie0512 @ hotmail . com
RoxyOctober 26, 2009 at 3:57 pm
This is totally outside of my reading habits but the Monstrumologist sounds interesting.
Count me in.
MarionGOctober 26, 2009 at 4:20 pm
Hi I’d face down any creature or monster in order to save the world, but if I had to choose then make it Edward Cullen. Yes,I would love to read these books. Please count me in. Cheers. polo-puppy-fluffy AT hotmail *dot* com
Anita YanceyOctober 26, 2009 at 5:22 pm
If it was to save the world, I would face any or all monstors. No matter how big or small, or how scary. This book sounds so fascinating. Please enter me. Thanks!
Jenny NOctober 26, 2009 at 7:39 pm
I’d face down any monster, demon or alien. I really like the UK cover for The Hollow so hopw I can win a copy.
RaelenaOctober 26, 2009 at 7:44 pm
I think I could face down a zombie.
throuthehaze at gmail dot com
ThuyOctober 27, 2009 at 11:48 am
I would fearlessly face down Dracula. If I lose..the chances of him turning me would be 50/50. So it’s a win win situation. 🙂
Michelle MOctober 27, 2009 at 11:48 am
What a great contest
I’d face down (maybe not so fearlessly) some sort of evil faerie – someone I’d more have to outwit than outfight.
CecilliaHOctober 27, 2009 at 4:42 pm
Well, maybe I’d somewhat fearlessly face off with “The Fly”…not the Jeff Goldblum ‘Fly’ but the Vincent Price ‘Fly’. That was he was so tiny I might have a chance with a fly-swatter.
Jennifer ClodfelterOctober 29, 2009 at 6:52 pm
I would face down mutant zombie werewolf hybrids to save the world! Thanks for such an awesome contest!
Happy Halloween! 😈
EricaOctober 29, 2009 at 7:23 pm
I’d face down the Killer Rabbit of Caerbannog.
I’m not scared of those nasty, big, pointy teeth.
pixie13October 30, 2009 at 6:39 am
I’d be totally willing to face down zombies. (if I had to) (if they were the slow kind) (if I were aremed to the teeth). 😯
Awesome giveaway! Thanks!
Lisa GarrettOctober 31, 2009 at 8:28 am
A zombie from Night of The Living Dead!
Belinda mOctober 31, 2009 at 3:16 pm
I would face down boogieman and my son would think I was his hero!!!
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Book Review #5: The Monstrumologist | Whirl of ThoughtsNovember 7, 2009 at 7:31 pm
[…] plus a very cool book trailer, which I think is pretty cool. Birdbrain(ed)Book Blog and The Book Smugglers also reviewed The Monstrumologist. Check them out, though they may have spoilers for those reading […]
The Book Smugglers » Blog Archive » Halloween Week: Rick Yancey on Inspirations & InfluencesOctober 26, 2010 at 6:02 am
[…] guest is none other than Rick Yancey, the author behind the brilliant Monstrumologist books (The Monstrumologist and The Curse of the Wendigo). The Monstrumologist books are amongst Thea’s current favorite […]
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[…] Reviewed by Thea here. […]
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[…] The Monstrumologist – another one on my own wishlist. It’s a Printz Honor book, sounds perfect for Halloween and if that, along with the Goodreads reviews don’t convince you, check out The Book Smugglers review. […]
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AnonymousMarch 11, 2013 at 2:53 pm
this book was shit
AnonymousMarch 11, 2013 at 2:58 pm
I <3 anal