Pages: 454 (paperback)
Published: 2010 by Simon & Schuster
Recommended for: horror and Victorian readers, readers with a strong stomach
These are the secrets I have kept. This is the trust I never betrayed. But he is dead now and has been for nearly ninety 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 starts the diary of Will Henry, orphan and assistant to a doctor with a most unusual specialty: monster hunting. In the short time he has lived with the doctor, Will has grown accustomed to his late night callers and dangerous business. But when one visitor comes with the body of a young girl and the monster that was eating her, Will's world is about to change forever. The doctor has discovered a baby Anthropophagus—a headless monster that feeds through a mouth in its chest—and it signals a growing number of Anthropophagi. Now, Will and the doctor must face the horror threatening to overtake and consume our world before it is too late.
I was excited to read The Monstrumologist, because I'd heard that it was a Victorian YA where monsters are only too real merciless killing machines and they certainly don't sparkle. I wasn't disappointed in the least-- this is the gory story of one adventure in the life of Will Henry, a twelve year old orphan who in 1888 became apprenticed to a doctor of the world's gristliest profession: monstrumology, or the science and hunting of monsters. The book is immediately entrancing, what with its smart prose, sprinklings of humor, and gruesome mystery. If you don't have a strong stomach, though, I would recommend either scanning over the goriest paragraphs (found myself doing that a couple of times), or leaving this one altogether, because Rick Yancey might just have Stephan King beat in the gross-out factor.
The story centers around the sleepy New England town of New Jerusalem, a town whose biggest curiosity has long been Dr. Warthrop, the suspicious and fanatic monstrumologist who practices his unusual science with the help of Will Henry, his 'indispensable' apprentice. When a gravedigger comes calling in the middle of the night, Will is disturbed from a good night's sleep by an urgent issue which requires the doctor's immediate attention-- and something so utterly disturbing, I almost put the book down early on and deemed it just too gruesome. Turns out the graveyard of this sleepy New England town is home to a pod of Anthropophagi-- terrible, man-eating monsters mentioned briefly throughout Greek myth. Will and the doctor are in a race against time and the feeding habits of the little-known, deadly Anthropophagi, trying to figure out exactly how the monsters arrived from their native Africa to America and tracking down the disturbing history of their not-so-accidental migration, before the brutal monsters strike again and make victims of the rest of the town.
The Monstrumologist would make such a good horror movie. The effects would have to be really superb to keep the Anthropophagi from seeming ludicrous and corny, I think, but the creepiness of the monsters' hunting ground and the characters would translate perfectly to the silver screen. The characters of Will Henry and Dr. Warthrop are perfectly written-- I love their love-hate relationship. Though the monstrumologist always says Will Henry s 'indispensable' to him as an assistant, he really doesn't treat the poor kid that way, and the fact remains that Will blames the doctor at least partially for his parents' gruesome death. My favorite character, though, has to be Dr. Kearns, an ex-surgeon from Britain who hunts monsters like the Anthropophagi (Kearns calls them 'poppies') for sport, and who the monstrumologist writes to for help upon discovering the monster infestation. Kearns seems very charismatic at first-- if more than a little unhinged, but we soon realize he's a man who values human life very little... less than the thrill he gets from seeking out and killing monsters. He also adds some humor to the book, with his sinister cynicism, bluntness, and weird assuming of unnecessary 'code-names'. And there is a Jack the Ripper tie-in-- I never squealed out loud when I realized it.
The pace of the book can seem kind of slow between pages 80 through maybe 150, but things speed right up around the time of the next monster attack and Kearns's arrival. It can also seem a little wordy sometimes for a YA novel, but that is to be expected for a Victorian journal, which is basically what the story of Will Henry is. I really enjoyed this one, but didn't realize I was enjoying it until maybe page 300-- it was kind of an odd read in that respect. Just a FYI: The Monstrumologist won the Printz Honor Award in 2010, so that's cool and, I think, an award well-deserved.
Plot: 4/5Overall Rating: 4.5/5