|3.5 stars out of 5|
So starts the diary of Will Henry, orphaned assistant to Dr. Pellinore Warthorpe, a man with a most unusual specialty: monstrumology, the study of monsters. In his time with the doctor, Will has met many a mysterious late-night visitor, and seen things he never imagined were real. But when a grave robber comes calling in the middle of the night with a gruesome find, he brings with him their most deadly case yet.
A gothic tour de force that explores the darkest heart of man and monster and asks the question: When does man become the very thing he hunts?
A pseudo-Victorian novel set in 1888, The Monstrumologist has the same rather over-wrought style of that time period and is chock full of orphans, including our protagonist Will Henry. But this is very much a product of the twenty first century, being much more direct and much more graphic than the standard Victorian novel.
On full display is the mad scientist stereotype. The doctor whom Will Henry serves is depicted as amoral, pursuing scientific knowledge without much reference to morals or emotions. He attempts to be the ultimate unbiased observer. There is some exploration of the danger of obsession , with references to Nietzsche (referencing his statement: If you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss also gazes into you). Indeed, by book’s end, the reader can certainly see where the doctor’s childhood has shaped the nature of the conflict, which is interesting considering that Sigmund Freud’s theories were developed during the Victorian period and are generally accepted into popular thinking today.
The mad scientist stereotype always frustrates me, appearing as it does from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein right through to Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park. It makes a good story, which is why it continues to be used, but it also feeds that strain of scientific ignorance and fear that seems to run just beneath the surface of so many issues of our times. Both industrialists and environmentalists who refuse to believe various scientific studies, for example, and have dug into their positions. Rather than actually think and truly negotiate, they merely refuse to believe each’s other’s positions and go nowhere and nothing changes. (Science is a method of investigation, not a religious belief.)
For those with delicate sensibilities, this may be a book to avoid as there is a lot of what I found to be gratuitous gore. But there are a few interesting ideas being bounced around and once again, I find myself impressed a work of YA fiction.