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The Monstrumologist
Rick Yancey
Simon & Schuster Children, 448 pages

The Monstrumologist
Rick Yancey
Rick Yancey is the author several books for adults, including The Highly Effective Detective. He is also a produced playwright and former theater critic. He lives in Gainesville, Florida with his wife and three sons.

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A review by Dan Shade

Rick Yancey has created a grisly monster for this book. Perhaps the most horrible monster I have ever encountered. Called the Androphagi or Anthropophagi, these monsters are man-eaters. It is April 15, 1888 and a grave robber has just delivered a huge bundle to Dr. Pellinore Warthrop and his young assistant Will Henry. It is Will's journal we are actually reading. Dr. Warthrop is a Monstrumologist, a scientist who studies monsters. What the grave robber has delivered to his door has been thought to be a myth for centuries. Here now lay proof in all its horror and alarm.

Standing over eight-feet-tall, the headless monstrosity looked more like something a child might have concocted than a loving God. At first Will Henry was at a loss to see how such a creation could exist without a head. It was then that he noticed the thing had a mouth and eyes after all. Its mouth, containing rows and rows of shark-like teeth, was located just above its groin area and its eyes were in its shoulders. Its huge, muscular body lay on the examination table as if it were sleeping. The monsters arms and hands were extremely large and ended with long fingernails that looked to be as sharp as diamonds. The cause of the monster's death was unapparent immediately and took Dr. Warthrop some time to discover. The grave robber had also delivered the monster's victim but I will not speak of her at this time least I give away too much of the story.

Will Henry is the son of the doctor's previous lab assistant. When his parents die in a mysterious fire, it seems only natural for Will to continue to live with the doctor. Yet, the unnatural nature of Dr. Warthrop's work is unfit for a child I estimate to be between twelve- and fourteen-years-old. However, Will's duties, which range from taking lab notes to fixing the doctor a bite to eat, become indispensable to Dr. Warthrop. A common phrase throughout the book is, "Snap to, Will Henry, we have work to do." The doctor treats Will as an adult and tolerates no child-like behavior. Will is included in every aspect of the scientific work the doctor performs. Something I would have wanted to protect my children from but which becomes almost second nature to Will Henry and eventually a source of pride.

I became quite obsessive/compulsive while reading this book and could not put it down. To me it is every bit as powerful a book as Mary Shelly's Frankenstein. The reader is kept in the dark as bit by bit Dr. Pellinore Warthrop puts the mystery of the monster's presence in America together. We learn every aspect of the monster's development and life cycle. We find their origin is an isolated region of Africa, how they got here, that they are a matriarchal society, their life plan, their hunting methodology, how they kill, how they raise their children, and finally we go into their lair with Dr. Warthrop, Will Henry, the Constable, other police officers, and the hunter especially hired for this occasion, John Kearns. Mr. Kearns is an eccentric character. Before the hunt begins, he makes every man swear they will follow his orders no matter how unusual or immoral they may sound. Some of the orders he issues, while they are under the ground, do indeed seem outrageous until the reader sees what the monster does next. Of all we learn, perhaps the most important aspect is why Dr. Warthrop feels it is his personal responsibility to make sure they kill all of the monsters and end their presence in America.

Character development is intricate in this novel. Every one takes on a 3D life form. Especially Dr. Warthrop, Will Henry, and John Kearns who all seem larger than life. Not that there aren't some cardboard stand-ups but every novel has those. Most of the characters in this book are memorable. I'm sure I will never forget Pellinore Warthrop or young Will Henry. The pace of the novel is brisk with hardly a page that fails to move the action forward. As I said before, I could hardly put the book down and that was mostly because the action was continued on the next page. Also, it's a smooth novel to read. None of the awkwardness of the prose as in Herman Melville's Moby Dick or the wondering where the story is as in J.D. Salinger's The Catcher In The Rye (Both highly overrated novels in my opinion, especially Catcher In The Rye. Youth should be encouraged to read A Separate Peace by John Knowles rather than Catcher In The Rye. I have no moral objection to J.D. Salinger's book. I simply think it's a poor story and a waste of time but I'm editorializing so I must bring this to a close.).

I do have concerns over the age when a teen or young adult should read this book. It is such a grisly, ghastly tale that I'm loathe to allow my twelve-year-old daughter to read it for a couple more years. I'm afraid it would give her nightmares for a month. Every page is filled with some new horror, so much so that I was constantly astonished and couldn't help wondering what could be more hellish. Yancey does not disappoint. Also, the monsters are very hard to kill and very fast so one needs to know exactly where to shoot them because running away is not an option. Fortunately Mr. Kerns has hunted them many times and is an expert on killing them. Although young Will Henry gets in a good shot himself.

The Monstrumologist has already won the Michael L. Printz Award For Excellence In Young Adult Literature. This award is given by the American Library Association. I'm sure it will garner more in the next year. I highly recommend it as great reading with this warning. It is not for the weak minded or those with sensitive stomachs. Be warned!

Copyright © 2010 by Dan Shade

Dan Shade is a retired college professor who loves to read young adult science fiction, fantasy, and horror. But he doesn't draw the line there. He also enjoys writing science fiction and hopes to publish someday. In the meantime, you can find him at (under construction).

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