Publisher: Simon & Schuster’s Children’s
Genre: YA Horror
Call Number: Y Yancey
“These are the secrets I have kept. This is the trust I never betrayed. But he is dead now and has been for more than forty years, the one who gave me his trust, the one for whom I kept these secrets. The one who saved me…and the one who cursed me.”
So begins the journal of Will Henry, orphaned assistant to Dr. Pellinore Warthrop, 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. [summary from Goodreads]
The case starts out simple enough – the grave robber brings to Warthrop the corpse of a young girl inexplicably entwined with the dead body of a monstrous creature – but their search for what the creature is and how it got into the grave quickly becomes complicated. After a deadly trip to the local cemetery and some late-night dissections, Dr. Warthrop becomes convinced that the monster is an Anthropophagi, a hellish species his father had studied, and that the cemetery is their breeding ground. Their search to uncover more about creatures leads them from the graveyard to the mad house and into the past of both Will Henry and Dr. Warthrop.
The setting – New England in the late 19th century – is gloomy and bleak, perfect for such a dark story, and the haunted, driven characters fit the world perfectly. The Anthropophagi, far from being supernatural creatures, are wholly of the real world and are much scarier because of it – think about your local community being overrun by violent, man-eating animals at the top of the food chain and you’ll get the idea.
While the story has plenty of nail-biting suspense, hair-raising scares, and festivals of gore, it’s also a story about relationships, particularly of sons and their fathers: the son’s eternal striving to either live up to his father’s deeds, surpass them, or atone for them. Will Henry and Dr. Warthrop’s relationship is dysfunctional at best, shades of father/son and mentor/apprentice but not quite living up to either, but at the same time they need each other, if only because no one else needs them.
This is not a silly kid’s book about monsters that nobody would find scary. It’s not a B-movie. It’s not for the easily frightened or squeamish. What it is, is one of the best horror novels I’ve ever read (and I’m including adult books here, too), genuinely scary, fascinatingly gross, and psychologically complex.
If you like horror novels, this is the one to read.