The first installment in Rick Yancey’s series about a young boy working for a scientist who hunts monsters is an incredibly impressive novel. Set in the late 19th century, The Monstrumologist recounts the grisly exploits of twelve year-old orphan Will Henry and his guardian/boss, Dr. Pellinore Warthrop, a renowned monstrumologist. Will’s father had been the trusted assistant of Warthrop, and now that his parents are dead, and he has nowhere else to go, he finds himself slaving away for the self-absorbed scientist as the hunts a pack of vicious Anthropophagi—headless creatures with mouths in the middle of their chests and a taste for human flesh. Creepy, violent and rich with character development, The Monstrumologist lays the foundation for the complex relationship between Will and Warthrop. It is a great introduction and a wonderful set-up for the second installment, The Curse of the Wendigo, which in many ways is a stronger book. The second book in the Monstrumologist series finds Will accompanying Warthrop to the frozen wilds of Canada in search of the doctor’s former best friend and fellow monstrumologist. Yancey details their harrowing adventure with such vivid detail that the experience is almost unbearable. And that’s only the first half of the book. Things go from terrifying and violent in the snow-covered forests of Canada to nightmarish and gut-churning in the streets of late 1800s New York City.
Heavy in detail and written in 19th century vernacular, some readers might find The Monstrumologist and The Curse of the Wendigo a bit difficult to get through (especially younger readers). And speaking of younger readers, both books are very violent—especially Curse of the Wendigo—and are not meant for the squeamish. That said, Yancey is a great writer, and Will Henry is an interesting character and equally interesting narrator. Pellinore Warthrop is a complex character that is short on likeable qualities, but infinitely compelling, especially as described by Yancey through the voice of Will.
As far as YA horror novels for boys go, The Monstrumologist series is about as good as it gets; but again, I must emphasize, this isn’t for younger readers. Both of these books are like PG-13 versions of Stephen King, and to be honest Curse of the Wendigois closer to being rated R that PG-13. But if you can handle violence and gore (and some big words that you might have to look up in the dictionary), both of these books come highly recommended.