Synopsis Snippet: A horror book in which 12-year-old orphan Will Henry is the “indispensable assistant” to Pellinore Warthrop; a brilliant and self-absorbed Monstrumologist – a scientist who studies (and when necessary, kills) monsters (like the Anthropophagi) in late-1800s New England.
The Cast: Most of the book is concerned with Will Henry, The Monstrumologist and the monstrous Anthropophagi. Other characters are all other white men of various occupations from grave-diggers to doctors to town sheriffs. There are no women characters in the action of the text (though Will Henry’s mother is referred to and there is one woman who acts as “bait” at one point)
Romance Aspects: If you’re looking for romance, this is NOT the book for you. Expect gore, blood, gristly details of monsters and reflections on the morality of humanity. Do not expect romantic strolls through the cemetery.
Language: Constantly this book made me think of the Island of Dr. Moreau. It is wordy, definitely brings to mind some of the 1800’s feel with its formality and wordiness. At times the text veers into the rather descriptive paragraphs of technical observations that were tough for me to slog through but might be right up your alley if you love the nitty-gritty details.
Fat treatment: It isn’t good folks. This book has one obese character, cited as being around 300 lbs. Unfortunately, he is the bed-ridden near-death character of a man who knew the Monstrumologist’s father.
“Instead, lying before me was a man of monstrous proportions, weighing more than four hundred pounds, I would venture, cradled as it were in a kind of trough created in the mattress by his staggering corpulence. His head was equally huge; in relation to it the pillow upon which it rested appeared to be the size a pincushion.”
“Hezekiah Varner lay naked as the day he was born, beneath rolls of gelatinous fat, his body the same grayish hue as his face, a patchwork of gauze swatches hastily plastered in various locations over his colossal anatomy. A more grossly obese human being I had never seen, but it was not the sight that drove me backward or made me gasp; it was the smell.”
References to this man from the narration of Will Henry are anything but glowing. It doesn’t help that the man is very ill in ways too gory to explain here (but which are oh-so-well explained in the book) but the character and his fatness are not a benign or passing reference. His girth is mentioned without cessation throughout the section as a further indicator of his putrid presence. Not too positive (or even neutral). In fairness, the descriptions of almost every character are fairly dark and draw to mind grim images of unpleasant things. Still, don’t look for any size-positive descriptions here.
Review: This book was gory, detailed, at times over-technical and at other times entirely page-turn-inducing. The relationship between Will Henry and his now-guardian the Monstrumologist is fascinating to watch develop; I was on tenterhooks right along with young Will Henry every time Winthrop would cry out “Step to!” Honestly the horror aspects of the monsters was not as gruesome as I anticipated or feared and I was able to read it without a problem, even at night. However, that is NOT to say it wasn’t still VERY bloody and dark. If you’re looking for something to keep you darting your eyes into those shadows in the corners, this might just be your novel.
Great Quotes: Some awesome tidbits that might get your curiosity going.
“Do you know why our race is doomed, Pellinore? Because it has fallen in love with the pleasant fiction that we are somehow above the very rules that we have determined govern everything else”
“While we drowsily whiled away the deadest hours of the night, the beasts were busy imbuing them with blood.”
“Really. These …” He waved his mottled claw in the air, searching for the word. “Patients, so-called, they are the dregs of society. They come here because there is literally no place else for them to go. No family, or none that would claim them. All are insane—most criminally so, and those who are not have the intellectual capacity of a turnip root. They are human garbage, discarded by men, toxic to the general populace and to themselves, forgotten, unwanted, cruel, comical mockeries of all things that make us human. They could rot here or they could be sacrificed to the higher good.”
“No, it’s a philosophical question,” Kearns corrected him. “Which makes it useless, not stupid.”
“I could hear its mouth working, the sickening crunch of teeth pulverizing bone and snapping sinew, the odd grunting like an enormous boar snuffling in the underbrush.”
“So often the monsters that crowd our minds are nothing more than the strange and thoroughly alien progeny of our own fearful fantasies.”
Final Verdict: It wasn’t my favorite book. At times the overly technical portions were tough to slog through for me and the quite vile descriptions of the one non-thin character were appalling. Yet, 12-year-old Will Henry’s delving into the gore-filled world of monsters, the intense relationship between him and his now-guardian the Monstrumologist and the events laid out in New Jerusalem, New England in the 1880’s were captivating. Many times I found myself comparing this to The Island of Dr. Moreau for its prose and the idea of monsters being not necessarily entirely figments of our minds.
Details are at times excessively gory but I could not keep myself from flipping pages to find out more. If you’re hankering for a horror story which is beyond the recent vampires, weres and zombies that seem to populate the genre now, the Anthropophagi might just slack your horror thirst!
So, have you read this yet? Would you now want to? Would you suggest it to someone else? Do you fear the monsters under the bed? You just might after this!!