The Plot: It is February 1889 and thirteen year old Will Henry and his mentor / employer, monstrumologist Pellinore Warthrop, get a special delivery from their old friend Jack Kearns. The gift is the second greatest prize in monstrumology: it will inspire Warthrop and will to seek out the first greatest prize, racing across the globe to find it before anyone else does. Will is pushed to his physical, mental, and emotional limits as he is forced to face the ultimate question: what is a man and what is a monster? What is the difference between the two?
The Good: “It is the place where desire meets despair.”
If you enjoy horror, especially horror told in a literary manner, and haven’t read any of the Monstrumologist series yet, stop now and go read The Monstrumologist and The Curse of the Wendigo. This is the horror of Stephen King, including the deep examination of people and their psyches, a look into what makes people love — or people kill. It is told in the rich language of days past, as if polysyllabic words and classical language makes blood and violence easier to read about and to think about. To think — yes, horror demands you to think, not just about “what is that sound outside my window” but the deeper philosophical questions, such as – what is a monster? What is a man? What is the difference? Instead of Uncle Stevie making the reader think about the darker aspects of ourselves, it is Uncle Ricky, taking our hand as we search for monsters, known and unknown, inside and outside our homes and hearts.
At this point, I assume you’ve read the first two books, and your question now is, is The Isle of Blood as good as it’s predecessors? To step back, The Monstrumologist introduced the reader to a world where monsters are real, biological creatures waiting to be discovered and studied like any other mammal, insect, or fish; it told a layered, action packed story and introduced us to young Will Henry and his mentor, employer, and guardian, Dr. Pellinore Warthrop. The Curse of the Wendigo managed to both be scarier and grosser than the first book, and also revealed more layers of Warthrop’s character and more understanding of his obsession and the impact that had had on his life.
Yes, the third book, The Isle of Blood, is as good as the first two, if not better. It is just as bloody and dangerous and the stakes are just as high, as Warthrop and Will take part in a deadly, dangerous race to find the “Typhoeus magnificum,” the unseen one that preys on people. I’m hesitant to give too much of the plot away: a package arrives for Warthrop and . . . Well, in the world of the monstrumologist a package is never just a package, a delivery person is not just a person who can go on their merry way, unmarked by their interaction with monster hunters. The adventure proceeds at breakneck speed, bringing back some of the people met in the first two books. Yancey includes real references: pwdre ser (which, by the way, was also the basis for the film, The Blob) and the Hanwell Asylum, and appearances by Arthur Conan Doyle and Arthur Rimbaud. I’m sure there are others I missed.
As for the bigger questions of the series, beyond “catch the monster,” The Isle of Blood is about how this lifestyle has impacted the character and morals of young Will; and how Warthrop, an unwilling foster father, has shaped his unwanted foster son. Are these two really unwilling and unwanted? What about need? Most importantly, what type of man is Will becoming? For the first time in the series, I’m terrified of the possible answer to that question. Yet, shouldn’t I be reassured, because doesn’t the structure of these books — Rick Yancey telling us he’s merely transcribing the journals of an old man named Will Henry — assure me that Will Henry will be just fine? No. I’m not reassured, and I’ll need to wait for the next book to find the answer to that question. Meanwhile, though, rest easy — the monster search for Typhoeus magnificum is resolved within the pages of The Isle of Blood. Or, rather, rest as easy as one can knowing that monsters are outside your door.
Because Will Henry’s journey, both physical and emotional, fascinates and scares me. Because monsters are real. Because this series keeps getting better and better. For all these, this is a Favorite Book Read in 2011.