The monsters inside us: a review of The Isle of Blood

“You may think I’m stupid, you may call me a madman and a fool, but at least I stand upright in a fallen world. At least I have yet, like you, to fall off the edge into the abyss.”

The Isle of BloodRick Yancey’s third Monstrumologist book, The Isle of Blood, is my favorite in the series so far. I expected ghastly creatures, vile dissections, and the sick thoughts of morbid men — as usual — but I wasn’t prepared for the frightening transformation of a small boy.

The Isle of Blood is, from start to finish, one of Yancey’s best. I found the previous book, The Curse of the Wendigo, a little slower paced as it focused more on character than action. This novel maintains the quality of Yancey’s signature descriptions, so gruesome and rich in detail, but also seamlessly combines internal character developments with nonstop, heart-pounding events.

I was a little disoriented because The Isle of Blood doesn’t begin where I thought it would, given the previous novel’s cliffhanger. But I quickly traded confusion for fascination as a mysterious “nest” of human flesh and matter arrived on Dr. Pellinore Warthrop’s doorstep, along with the desperate man delivering it. This nidus, as it’s called, curses all who so much as touch it or someone afflicted by it. It blinds them, turns their flesh to rot, and carves their souls hollow. They become hungry creatures, servants of a foul master.

Will Henry, the doctor’s young assistant, almost becomes one.

Warthrop himself is absent for a portion of the book. He trots off in search of the source of the nidus, the magnificum, the Faceless One, with an eager colleague who seems to know much more about the doctor and his secrets than he should. But The Isle of Blood is Will Henry’s tale — a look at what envy and loneliness can do to a boy so consumed by the obsessions of a man who is the closest thing to a father he’ll ever know, only the role of parent and child are reversed: Will Henry too often the parent, Warthrop the child. They’ve become so tied to each other that even a taste of a normal life cannot free Will Henry or save him from his descent into darkness, where he chases after Warthrop and becomes lost himself.

Once again, Yancey continues to deepen the strange and pained relationship between Warthrop and Will Henry — their obligations and responsibilities toward one another, and their guilt. Warthrop, so cold and unlikeable, becomes a warmer and more human character in this book while Will Henry, only a boy, finds monsters in himself that never existed there before. Yancey doesn’t shy away from them; sadly, neither does Will Henry, who, having never enjoyed such freedom, embraces their sinister power.

Yancey’s real accomplishment of story here is the way he dissects the truth and meaning of monsters: Are the ones we hunt in the world, the creatures that go bump in the night, more horrible than what man himself is capable of? What does that dark compulsion to find them, that life-long pursuit of them, do to the mind — to the fertile imagination and fragile psyche of a young boy? What monsters do we create in the search for monsters? When do the footsteps we follow become our own?

Grade: A

On the high wind: a review of The Curse of the Wendigo

“In the name of all that’s holy, tell me why God felt the need to make a hell. It seems so redundant.”

The Curse of the WendigoMonstrumology is the science of dissecting truth from superstition — or debunking myths altogether. In The Curse of the Wendigo, it specifically involves understanding and maintaining humanity in a world of monsters.

I really liked The Monstrumologist, Rick Yancey’s first book in the series, when I read it last year, and I’m ashamed it took me this long to pick up the sequel. It was, most assuredly, well worth the wait. I’m only saddened to learn that after the next book, The Isle of Blood, there’s just one more (The Final Descent releases in September). Of course, a fourth book almost didn’t happen at all.

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Snap to! A review of The Monstrumologist

Yes, my dear child, monsters are real. I happen to have one hanging in my basement.

I finished reading The Monstrumologist, and I have to say: Bravo, Mr. Yancey, for turning the bones-old premise of monsters under the bed and grave-digging and other such haunts into something I want to read in the modern day—with the lights off.

The Monstrumologist, part one in an ongoing YA series that escaped cancellation thanks to fan intervention, is fantastically gripping. Yancey has a natural knack for writing characters and forming meaningful connections between them, even if he does fall trap to spelling everything out for you (at least in the beginning) through the diary-recorded narration of the young Will James Henry, the monstrumologist’s assistant. But Yancey is quite clever at coming up with these psychological observations in the first place, and the sheer number of them makes the book rich and rewarding.

Also enjoyable is Yancey’s talent for describing the grotesque. It’s something to marvel at. The first chapter snares your attention for the rest of the book because the author takes his time in painting a very disgusting picture that gets increasingly impressive as more is revealed. In fact, while Yancey has undoubtedly learned from the old masters (H.P. Lovecraft, most notably), he certainly has a tenacious grasp of gross imagery that’s completely his own dark invention.

In the book, Will Henry and his mentor, the monstrumologist Dr. Pellinore Warthrop, investigate the emergence of man-eating Anthropophagi in New England. The early parts of the story are slow to develop, but the flavorful language is more than repayment, and the last third of the book peaks in pace and suspense. Yancey knows how to keep a reign on the easily overplayed nature of horror.

For me, the bane of books with sequels is that I know that I either want to continue on (either soon or someday) or never will. With The Monstrumologist series, it’s only a matter of time before I’m back solving gruesome mysteries alongside Will Henry and the doctor.

My favorite quote from the book (spoiler-free), which speaks well of its themes:

I knew what monsters were, to be sure—what child did not?—but, like all children, when I thought of monsters, I imagined horrible, malformed beasts characterized by a singular trait: their enormous size. But monsters, I now know, come in all shapes and sizes, and only their appetite for human flesh defines them.

About Rick Yancey.

Have you read The Monstrumologist series or any other books by Yancey? What did you think? (No spoilers, please!)

If you’re looking for more YA recommendations, blogger Miss Anderson put up a great list of starter books—perfect for people who don’t read YA and for grown-ups who hate YA.