A Monstrumologist specializes in the habits of monsters. Pellinor Warthrop lives in a large old house studying monsters and writing papers on them for the Monstrumologists Society with the help of his assistant Will Henry.
Will is only twelve and is an orphan, his parents having died in a ghastly fire. The Monstrumologist took in Will as his assistant in the place of Will’s unfortunate father. Because his father was gone, and his father had worshipped Warthrop, Will did everything he could to be the perfect assistant to the doctor.
One evening, a knock on the door reveals Erasmus Gray, a withered old man with a horrific bundle. In the bundle is a dead young girl with a monster wrapped around her in a terrible embrace. Somehow, Erasmus knows that the Monstrumologist will know what to make of this awful abomination.
Indeed he does. Taking the beast and entwined girl down to his basement laboratory, the doctor carefully pulls them apart. The girl he examines for damage by the beast, the beast he carefully dissects and catalogs.
The beast is an Anthropophagi, an ancient predator native to Africa. Somehow it has come to our shores and has been here long enough to have bred a pod of 30 of these creatures, amazing for a species that only produces one or two progeny a year. They are living under the graveyard in a series of tunnels and something has caused them to venture forth for prey.
The story is set in Victorian times but in New England. The wonderful dread filled writing style of that era meshes perfectly with the modern Aliens-like action and fierce battles. The story isn’t for the faint of heart, as the monsters and their terrorizing attacks are described in gory detail.
Although this is marketed as a children’s book, the writing style, philosophical content and violent battles would appeal to adults who love horror stories. As I was reading I thought “this is like discovering a new book by Bram Stoker or Mary Shelley”, wondrous and classic at the same time. Readers of Drood by Dan Simmons, A. Merritt’s The Moon Pool, Sheridan Le Fanu’s ghost stories will love this. Reader’s of H.P. Lovecraft may find themselves thinking this is like Lovecraft but Yancey names the nameless and describes the horrific looks and murderous ways of the monsters in detail.
Despite all of the gore and suspense the heart of the novel is the relationship between twelve year old William James Henry and his mentor/master Pellinore Warthrop. Will Henry often feels like a slave to the Monstrumologist and he misses his loving parents terribly. He seeks to not only serve and please his master, but deep down he wishes that the Monstrumologist would appreciate him and show him some care and kindness. The Monstrumologist, a deeply scientific yet honest and responsible person, sees Will Henry as an indispensible assistant, and little more when we first meet them. Over the course of the book we see both go a bit beyond what they must do purely out of duty, and some mutual respect grows between them.
The next book in the series is Curse of the Wendigo.