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Hail and well met, Beardies!
Welcome to the first edition of Book Spotlight, which I’m really excited to write as a regular feature for The Bearded Scribe! As a librarian, I feel that the best writers start as readers, and many times I have heard authors, asked for advice on writing, say something along the lines of “Read as much as you can.” With this in mind, Book Spotlight is a chance for me to tell you about the books that have influenced my writing the most—and sneak a plug in for my all-time favorite reads as well. So, without further ado, let’s get to it!
Today’s Book Spotlight is a three-for-one special: Rick Yancey’s The Monstrumologist Series. When I’m choosing books for the library, I usually have to go on others’ opinions—reviews, more often than not, or award lists. This series has gotten plenty of good buzz in both places. The first book, The Monstrumologist, bagged a Michael L. Printz Award Honor in 2009, while the second, The Curse of the Wendigo, was named a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and a Top Ten Amazing Audiobook for Young Adults. With all the starred reviews and hardware piling up around these books, I had to buy them for the library (and read them for myself)!
Twelve-year-old Will Henry is apprentice, assistant, and ward to Dr. Pellinore Warthrop, a renowned monstrumologist (scientist who hunts and studies monsters) in nineteenth-century Massachusetts. Though the doctor often says that Will’s services are “indispensible,” the two have a tenuous relationship. The doctor is a cold, prickly, and self-absorbed man, bent upon his work to the exclusion of all else; Will vacillates between feeling that he owes the doctor everything and that the doctor is to blame for the deaths of his parents, both of whom were in the doctor’s employ.
The first book, The Monstrumologist, sees Will and Dr. Warthrop work to contain and exterminate a colony of Anthropophagi that is terrorizing the small Massachusetts town where they live. In the second book, The Curse of the Wendigo, Dr. Warthrop is attempting to disprove the existence of vampires when an old flame shows up on his doorstep, begging him to mount a rescue mission to save her husband, who disappeared on a hunt in the Canadian wilderness. Will and Dr. Warthrop head to the wilderness in pursuit of the man, who has become a Wendigo, a creature that slowly starves while gorging on human flesh. The Isle of Blood is the third book in the series. In it, Dr. Warthrop leaves Will behind and goes on a hunt for the Holy Grail of Monsters: Typhoeus Magnificum, the faceless one of a thousand faces, taking a new apprentice who may be leading him into a trap.
Gems for Writers:
Description. Too much description can either power a story or bog it down, and this series is definitely a case of the former. The descriptions range from tender to visceral and everything in between. These books are gothic horror at its finest, and not for the faint of heart. There is plenty of death and gore to spare, but rather than feeling superfluous, the descriptions make the setting and the characters spring vividly to life—when Will is washing his hands after a dissection and casually reaches into the drain to clear the bits of brain that are clogging it, the reader understands his life in a way that wouldn’t otherwise be possible.
Characterization. All of Yancey’s characters, including the minor ones, are beautifully developed and multi-faceted. Every time I found myself feeling sorry for Will, the poor orphan boy cast adrift, he’d say or do something to display his calculating, scientific mind—establish himself as a force not to be trifled with. Likewise, every time I wanted to strangle Dr. Warthrop for being so cold and self-centered, something would happen to show a wonderfully human and compassionate side of him. There are no one-dimensional characters here. Various real historical figures make appearances in this series as well, including Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Jacob Riis, and they blend seamlessly with the other, entirely fictional characters.
Mood and Suspense. As I outlining this post, Joshua and I had a discussion about using weather to set a mood, and I suddenly realized that’s one of my favorite things about this series—the dark, gothic mood is palpable throughout, and established through various means including weather! In The Curse of the Wendigo, the wind howls cold through the Canadian wilderness…or is that the cry of the Wendigo itself? In The Isle of Blood, Will takes a desperate, midnight run barefoot through the streets of New York City, “running on blood and fire” as the rain pours down and the reader just knows something big is about to happen. Suspense exudes from every page, but somehow manages not to feel overdone or forced.
That’s it for this edition of Book Spotlight! I hope you’ll take the time to read at least one if not all of these phenomenal books! Until next time…
Happy Reading and Happy Scribing!
***The Monstrumologist (2009), The Curse of the Wendigo (2010), and The Isle of Blood (2011) by Rick Yancey are published by and copyright Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers. They are available in stores, online (see above), and from your favorite public library.