Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Book Review: The Monstrumologist, by Rick Yancey

File:The Monstrumologist.jpg

What a wonderful, terrible, hilarious, disgusting, compelling adventure yarn The Monstrumologist is! I've never read anything even remotely like it. In easy-to-digest list format, here's why you need to read this book.

1) The monsters -- Anthropophagi -- are refreshingly terrifying. Savage, headless man-eaters out of ancient lore (some of which Yancy's titular character references on the case), they are fierce, fast and thoroughly, foully, inhuman. This rarefied species has inexplicably appeared in a small New England town and embarked on what promises to be a no-holds-barred feeding frenzy. These nasty beasties are a welcome addition to the horror pantheon, which has nurtured so many romanticized monsters of late. You do not want to date one of these fellows, of that you can be sure. On they other hand, they'd love to have you incubate their offspring. They look a little something like this:

2) The sweet-and-sour relationship between the peculiar Monstrumologist (who is something like a bizarro-world Sherlock Holmes on one of his manic benders), and our narrator, the plucky and resilient twelve year-old orphan Will Henry. Will has, sadly, recently inherited his father's position as the monster-hunting scientist Dr. Pellinore Warthrop's assistant, and is about to be plunged into the kind of mayhem that makes even professional monster-hunters quail. Before the tale is told, Will will see (and do!) unthinkable things in the name of science and saving the world; learn the fine art of being indispensable; and forge himself a new family from the ashes of tragedy.

3) Yancey's writing is simply wonderful. Densely descriptive without being dull; poetic without being pretentious. Top notch plotting as well. I've seen reviews suggest it was slow at points, but I couldn't put it down at any point. When the action slows down, the character development picks up the slack with sharp, funny dialogue and moments of painful honesty about the human (and inhuman) condition. These quiet sections sometimes also serve to subtly build and attenuate the dread that hangs over Will's every step to a spectacular payoff. Beware this book's potential to induce squealing like a little girl and/or jumping out of your skin. Also? Some barfing, because . . .

4) It's viscerrific! The Monstrumologist is one of the bloodiest (and brain-iest, and pus-iest, and maggot-iest) books I have ever read. The gore is so over-the-top that at times I laughed and cringed simultaneously. I know it's considered a YA novel (and has the Printz-prize sticker to prove it); however I'm pretty sure it would have terrified me, even as a teen. Granted, I was kind of a wuss, but there were at least two scenes where the jaded, adult me felt the need to avert my gaze -- just skip ahead, la-de-da -- because I really didn't want any more detail about the particular variety of disgustingness happening on the page. (No, no, no, no, NO. A world of no.) You'd better be sure your kid can take the relentless gross-out -- I'd read it first, just to see if you can.

Grotesque, rollicking, unique and scary fun, The Monstrumologist has made a Rick Yancey fan out of me. I can't wait to get my hands on the second installment, The Curse of the Wendigo.