The Curse of the Wendigo
Richard Yancey’s second installment of his Monstrumologist series is an ambitious book in a different vein from the first. Whereas that book had to set up the framing device (in 2007 an author by the name of Richard Yancey comes into possession of many journals apparently penned by a recently deceased man who claims to have born in 1876; he publishes them), the narrative device (the authorial voice is an eleven-year old, but written from an adult perspective) and the stylized form, the second book allows him to play with the world he has so painstakingly created.
(Click the picture, read an excerpt).
The Monstrumologist is a 19th century procedural crime drama of the fantastic – what CSI: New England would be if there were monsters. In Yancey’s history, monsters aren’t just fairy tales – the anthropophagi, the malevolent natural beasties of that book are quite real. But as he makes clear in The Curse of the Wendigo, superstition is still superstition. In other words, there is no such thing as vampires. That first novel compacts its horrific events into a mere week at most. This one, a year later, draws out over weeks. No more the investigative procedural with necropsies, this time Yancey delivers us a full-blown 19th century X-Files (in a good way, not in one of the lousy-monster-of-the-week-episode ways).
Dr. Pellinore Warthrop, the monstrumologist of the title, Scully’s his own Mulder, so to speak. In the first installment, he is the believer, forcing his outlandish (yet accurate and true!) theories on the local villagers. In this one, he is the skeptical scientist, refuting with every breath and intellectually inclined synapse against the evidence with which he is presented – just like poor Special Agent Dana Scully.
These books are mostly not about character arcs. You will not see a change wrought in Warthrop, nor in our ever-faithful narrator, Will Henry. Instead, Yancey adds to his Warthrop’s complexity by introducing his best friend and rival, the girl-who-almost-was-the-love-of-his-life, and his old teacher. He becomes a more and more nuanced individual, while the long-suffering Will Henry largely remains… long-suffering. But as the narrator trying to make sense of his father-figure-mentor, this makes a certain kind of sense. Will Henry is the emotional core of the book, and Pellinore Warthrop is his emotional goal.
Much as with the first book, I take a few issues with Yancey’s plot. On the plus side, Warthrop’s manic-depression (merely a character trait in the first book) nearly becomes a plot device in the first section of Wendigo. On the minus, for all that Will Henry is “indispensable,” he receives no education from his master, and is apparently expected to apprentice his way to master monstrumologist via osmosis. For someone who’s always talking about brains and education, this seems a remarkable oversight for Warthrop. Lastly – and without revealing the plot – no necropsy? None? Seems like a lot of questions should have been answered at the end of this book with a proper necropsy. At least there should have been a verbal explanation as to why none was forthcoming.
Mostly, though, I really, really like the writing. The characters make their decisions for simple, emotional, understandable reasons. Sometimes, as a result of that, someone dies (in an awful, yucky way, by and large). It’s a relief not to read a book where the fate of the world is at stake and only ONE MAN (or teen of either gender) CAN SAVE US NOW. It’s a delight to read a book so carefully crafted. Yancey’s world-building is on a slow boil, growing from book to book. I’m looking forward to Isle of Blood in September – the last of his Simon & Schuster published Monstrumologist books. Because they’ve decided they’ve “spent too much on these books already. We’re not prepared to spend any more.”
Update: Simon & Schuster has decided to release a fourth book after all, due to an outpouring of fan support it would seem. Stephanie Oakes spearheaded the effort and deserves all credit.
Related review: The Monstrumologist