Book Review: The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson

The Rithmatist by

Brandon Sanderson

Huge fan of Brandon Sanderson here, which is why I was all over this book even though I knew it would take place outside of his Cosmere universe and be a little different from his usual epics. I admit I was mostly curious as to what reading a young adult fantasy novel by him would feel like, since I’ve never read any of his Alcatraz series books for teens.

On the surface, it didn’t feel too different, thanks to Sanderson’s unique brand of world-building and magic system creation. The Rithmatist is about 16-year-old Joel Saxon who goes to school at the prestigious Armedius Academy, one of just a handful of Rithmatist schools in the United Isles of America. He is somewhat of an outsider at the school; unlike a lot of his fellow students who are the sons and daughters of politicians, the rich, or other people of influence, his mother is a cleaning lady at the academy, and his father, who died
eight years ago in a springrail accident, was its resident chalkmaker. Neither is Joel a Rithmatist, though he desperately wishes to be one.

Rithmatists are a chosen group of magic users who can make chalk-drawn lines, circles and figures called Chalklings come to life and take on unique properties. They are trained at schools like Armedius, then sent on to the wilds of Nebrask where they defend humanity against hordes of dangerous and blood thirsty Wild Chalklings that threaten to overrun the territory. When several Rithmatists students go missing, Joel is assigned to be an assistant to Professor Fitch, the Rithmatist expert tasked to investigate the disappearances.

My first thought while reading this was that the writing is less subtle than I’m used to when reading Sanderson’s adult books. Instead of the letting details of the magic system trickle through as you make your way through the plot, there were a couple of pretty big info dumps near the beginning where one character explains Rithmatics to another.

Even then, I didn’t find the magic system or the world building to be as robust as it could be, though of course I’m not expecting Sanderson to go on in detail about such things in a young adult novel compared to the the way he does it in a 1000+ page fantasy epic. Still, I found myself asking a lot of questions about Rithmatics; it just felt like a magic system I could poke a lot of holes in without thinking too hard about it.

Rithmatics by itself sounds like a lot of fun, though. Is there something wrong with me that when I think about Rithmatist battles with their defense strategies and Chalklings, my mind immediately went to Pokemon? Or, okay, let’s say Magic: The Gathering, or Starcraft, or really any kind of game which involves a fundamental set of rules, strategic gameplay, a combination of chance and skill, and limits that force a player to think quickly and creatively when trying to defeat their opponent.

For Rithmatists, the decision comes down to whether to spend the time drawing a strong defense, or mounting a fast and powerful offense. Despite my skepticism, it really is quite cool. The technical aspects like circles, lines, and ratios didn’t interest me so much, but the idea of Chalklings attracted me more speaking from an artist’s point of view, since I suspect passion and talent for drawing Chalkings will end up playing into their effectiveness. Obviously, I’m looking forward to seeing more on Chalking theory. Also, I have to mention I really liked the art and diagrams which preceded each new chapter in this book.

Basically, as YA fiction goes, this was amazing. It’s like Brandon Sanderson took the crash course on how to write a good YA novel and threw in the works, complete with the teenage protagonist attending a school of magic in an alternate-reality-steampunky kind of world (with a whacked-out archipelago version of the United States and a Europe that has been taken over by invaders from Asia called the JoSeun).

There are even wonky things happening in this book like the lead investigator of a murder case simply taking a 16-year-old at his word, and of course the requisite potential for a romance along with the feel-good Karate Kid-like ending. Still, I loved it all. The last chapter and final scene was just so great, and I’m glad to see there will be future books in this series. Sanderson’s flair for fantasy and writing about magic is as usual unparalleled and something you absolutely won’t find anywhere else.

Final verdict:
  4 of 5 stars

b1dbb-new4stars

Advertisements

Wendy: The Best Book I’ve Read This Year

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin

This was actually  my favourite book of 2012, but after reading the ebook, I had to have it (and all of N.K. Jemisin’s books) on my bookshelf. When it arrived early in 2013, I intended only to skim through to dog ear and highlight all the moments and quotes that had kept me up at nights during my initial read. Instead, I got sucked in all over again. It was even better the second time through, knowing what I did from my first read through. All the little things suddenly had that much more meaning.

Aside from the images and thoughts spilling across Tumblr, one of the things that really attracted me to the book was the author herself who is a woman of colour. It is rare to find people like yourself creating the things that you love so, while I try not to dwell on the paleness of science fiction and fantasy, it increases my enjoyment to be entertained by something that far better reflects life as it could and should be, rather than the reality that sometimes is. It disturbs me that science fiction and fantasy of all things remain bound to our prejudices when the worlds and creatures you can create within these realms should be limitless. It turns out, Ms. Jemisin has much to say on this subject herself:

This genre is rooted in the epic — and the truth is that there are plenty of epics out there which feature people like me. […] So given all these myths, all these examinations of the possible…how can I not imagine more? How can I not envision an epic set somewhere other than medieval England, about someone other than an awkward white boy? How can I not use every building-block of my history and heritage and imagination when I make shit up?

I have not yet written what I would consider a proper review for this book because my thoughts are just too muddled with emotion, speculation and lots of spoilers. I haven’t started the next book in the trilogy because I’m not quite ready for the emotional commitment. Both times I read THTK, it encompassed my thoughts for long hours – days afterward, which is enough for me to say that it is most definitely  five star book in my eyes. I’ve recommended it to everyone I know!

Book Review: City of Dragons by Robin Hobb

City of Dragons by Robin Hobb

This is the third book of Robin Hobb’s Rain Wild Chronicles series and unfortunately also my least favorite installment so far. That’s not to say I didn’t like it, but I’m also sensing a definite slowdown compared to the first couple of novels (see my review of Dragon Keeper and Dragon Haven).

The book picks up from where we last left our group of dragons, their keepers and their crew. After overcoming the dangers of the Rain Wild River, the expedition has finally found the legendary Elderling city of Kelsingra. And yet, due to the eruptions and bad flooding, the city can only be reached by flying — a problem, as despite growing bigger and stronger since the start of their journey, many of the dragons’ wings are still stunted, deformed and non-functioning. So close and yet so far!

And so, we watch as the characters spend much of their time in the book doing…not much of anything. About a quarter of the book blows by before I felt the story picking up, like something interesting was actually happening. It was definitely a slow start, lots of setting up and reintroductions to characters and past events to get the reader up to speed.

I’m notoriously forgetful of things that happened in previous books in a series (especially if it’s been a while) so normally I would appreciate it when the author throws in the casual reminder here or there. But that left the remainder three-quarters of this book to blow me away, and honestly, it just didn’t. I still enjoyed it, nonetheless…but the truth is I would have enjoyed it even more if it didn’t feel so much like a “transition book”, i.e. filler.

There were some high points, of course. I liked that we finally got to see more of Hest and his perspective, despite the fact that he’s a scumbag of a human being, but it was a nice change from our constant focus on the river and the dragons. And let’s face it, sometimes it’s the scumbags’ perspectives that are the most interesting to read about! There were also large sections featuring Reyn and Malta who are starting to get more attention in this series, though I think I would have been more excited about that if I’d read some of the previous books in Hobb’s Realm of the Elderlings universe in which they also appear.

There continues to be interesting and dynamic developments in the relationships between the characters. Couples are pairing off, people are sleeping around, jealousy abounds, etc. etc. etc. More secrets are uncovered about Elderlings and Kelsingra. The dragons and their keepers are all growing and moving forward as characters go. All that’s great, because it means there’s still a point to this novel. But still, I can’t help but feel that the book lacks a certain direction.

And the ending! I’m not sure what to make of that. Let me go on the record to say that I think Robin Hobb is a great writer and that I love her style, but there really doesn’t seem to be much logic when it comes to where and how she ends her books. This one was abrupt, but not not exactly a cliffhanger. It makes me wonder if this book and the fourth and final book in the series were meant to be read as one, but then split into two for whatever reason. That could also explain its relatively short length. In any case, I did not expect the book to end this way, limply dangling in the breeze like that.

Regardless, I have one more book to go in this Rain Wild Chronicles series and I’m looking forward to see how it all ends.

Book Review: Bitter Seeds by Ian Tregillis

Bitter Seeds by Ian Tregillis

This book could have been a story arc in a comic book, and I mean that in a good way. In fact, I’m thinking that could be why I liked this book so much. You have British warlocks versus Nazi Germany’s engineered super soldiers in an alternate history of World War II.

At this point in the story, the U.S. is still out of the picture and the Soviet Union only gets involved later in the book. The British have discovered that Nazi scientists have been developed a technology to create a group of “supermen” — there’s a guy who can manipulate fire, a woman who can turn invisible, another dude who can walk through solid matter, etc. The British know they’re screwed unless they come up with something fast, so they end up recruiting a bunch of their warlocks to counter the enemy.

But the story is a lot darker than it sounds, or at least that’s how I felt. There are parts that were really emotionally disturbing and/or upsetting to me; the whole book just has this heavy, gloomy vibe surrounding it, which isn’t uncommon for books that explore the theme of whether the ends justify the means — because there’s a catch to the warlocks’ power. Apparently, it comes only from a group of omnipotent extra-planar beings called the Eidolons, demon-like creatures who demand a “blood price” for their services.

Not to mention that the book’s main antagonist, the Nazi’s super-soldier pre-cog named Gretel is one crazy scary bitch. She’s even crazier and scarier than the Nazi’s mad scientist. The people on her own side are afraid of her. Heck, her own brother thinks she’s nutters. And yet, her personality is handled just subtly enough so the reader doesn’t simply brush her off as just another cookie-cutter psycho supervillain. Personally, I found her fascinating in a creepy, discomforting sort of way, because you’re left wondering what could anyone with the perfect ability to see the future and manipulate events possibly have planned for the world? It hurts my head just to work out the paradoxes, and quite frankly I don’t really want to think about it at all.



Like I said, there were parts of this book that really disturbed and upset me, but not in the way that would make me want to put it down. Most of the time, it was the penetrating feeling of dread that hit me as I was reading, the anticipation of impending disaster or of waiting for the other shoe to drop. It’s a good, suspenseful fear, and I suppose it speaks well of the author that he was able to make me feel this way, because it doesn’t normally happen unless I get emotionally invested in the story or the characters. 

I don’t want to make this book sound all doom and gloom, though. It’s beautifully written and Ian Tregillis has clearly done his homework on the historical period. Despite the occult paranormal and science fiction elements, you get a highly realistic sense of the war setting. The main characters are also very well done; we see the story play out through three main narratives — Marsh the British agent, Will the warlock, and Klaus the Nazi super soldier — and between them I got a pretty clear picture of what’s happening on all sides.

It’s probably true that the ideas in this novel aren’t completely original; you can probably recognize elements of them from other works, but the way Tregillis has mashed them together and the context he uses made this a really intriguing read. I’m really looking forward to picking up the rest of the series if it means I’ll be getting more of that good stuff.

Science fiction fans with an inclination towards alternate history should definitely check this out, especially if you have an interest in the WWII era.

b1dbb-new4stars

Werewolves on SPACE

Laura Vandervoort as Elena Michaesl

Bitten was my first real introduction to urban fantasy and supernatural books. I fell in love with Kelley Armstrong‘s Women of the Otherworld series. Part of my love comes from national pride: both Armstrong and her main character Elena Michaels are Canadian and it’s always nice to find the familiar in something you’re reading or watching.

The story goes: Elena is the only female to survive a werewolf bite, but she’s not too keen on pack life. A product of the more negative aspects of the foster care system, family doesn’t quite mean the same thing to her as it does to her pack. Since wolves tend to mate for life, her ex, Clay Danvers, is a little upset by this concept. Circumstances draw Elena back to the pack’s home at Stonehaven and murder and mystery ensue.

Greyston Holt as Clay Danvers

Since I learned last year about plans already underway for a TV series, I’ve been patiently excited. After Lost Girl, I’m quite happy to see more Canadian-made supernatural shows getting some attention. This month, SPACE released first looks from the set and fans are, unsurprisingly, already up in arms by what we’re seeing (video). We’ve been waiting for Clay’s blond curls and southern drawl, but we won’t be getting either. Elena’s casting is acceptable, but personally, I would have liked to see a more Asian Jeremy Danvers. That might just be because I have a thing for quietly powerful, broody darkangels with long black hair.

Still, I’m not upset by what I’ve seen so far. I’m far more interested in actors that understand and can bring to life the internal workings of a character than just having someone who looks (and sounds) the part. There have been enough excellent examples of actors (e.g. 50% of the Game of Thrones cast) doing this that I am willing to be cautiously optimistic. More so because Armstrong seemed to feel the same way when I asked her about it. When I visited Fan Expo last summer and learned about the show, I got to chat briefly with her. I was curious about her involvement. I always worry that great stories will be swept away from their creators, like Ursula K. Leguin’s issues with EarthSea, if the creator isn’t involved enough. Armstrong noted that she had seen the some of the pre-production concepts (and didn’t seem bothered by any of it), but she specifically did not want to be part of the casting because she felt her idea of how her characters should look would cause too much bias. I was glad to hear that she was able to let that go, so hopefully, fandom will find it in our hearts to forgive as well, once we see what the show actually has to offer us.

Ignoring Laura Vandervoort’s references to 50 Shades of Grey and Twilight, the on set video snippets and interviews seem to confirm to me that the creative team and the actors have grasped the essence of the story and characters (and are aware of what the fans will be upset about, with actor Greyston Holt already apologizing for Clay’s lack of a southern drawl), which is far more important to me as a fan of the books. I particularly love that the pack’s home, Stonehaven, has been recognized as a character unto itself and given the love and attention it deserves with details including first and foremost, Jeremy Danver’s paintings on the wall.

For now, Bitten is focusing, it seems, on Armstrong’s first book, but I definitely plan to stick around to see if the world of the werewolves will expand to include the other Women of the Otherworld and the respective supernatural races they belong to.

Book Review: Whispers Under Ground by Ben Aaronovitch

Whispers Under Ground by

Ben Aaronovitch

Wow, never have I snapped up and read all the currently available books in a series so quickly. With my enthusiasm waning for Harry Dresden in light of the new direction the Dresden Files series has taken in the last few books, someone else has recently dethroned him as my favorite leading man in urban fantasy fiction. Peter Grant is my master now!

I’m really enjoying this series. I probably didn’t like this book as much as the two preceding it, but then again, Rivers of London (review here) was excellent and the sequel Moon Over Soho (review here) was even better, so I knew that was going to be hard to top.


The story begins with a strange murder in the London Underground, and as usual, strange murders always lead to a call to The Folly, home of the Metropolitan Police’s two-man paranormal investigative unit. And thus Peter is dragged into a messy case involving a dead American exchange student who is also the son of a rich and powerful U.S. Senator. Added to that is The Folly’s ongoing manhunt for “The Faceless Man”, the rogue wizard who wreaked havoc and almost got Peter killed in the last book.

Actually, I’d thought this book would take up that thread directly, following through on the mystery behind who The Faceless Man is and ending that story arc, but apparently not. It seems the author has plans instead to expand that particular plot line over the course of future books, an indication that the scope of this series will be getting bigger and bigger. I’m not sure how I feel about that; on the one hand, I’m glad there are ambitious plans for these novels, but on the other, a part of me still prefers the one-contained-mystery-per-book-at-a-time kind of format.

Already, this book feels like there’s a lot more happening in it than the others. With the exception of a couple scenes, the story didn’t feel as suspenseful because the mystery was “diluted” amidst all that was going on. Maybe that’s also why its chapters were organized into what happened by days of the week this time, to help keep track of all the events over time.  There seems to be a lot more exposition as well, and sadly — at least it feels this way to me — less history about London and less of Peter experimenting with magic using science, which were the two things I’d loved best about the first two books. Actually, there’s just not as much magic, period.


Despite that, there were some things I really liked about this book, not the least of all Lesley’s bigger role in this series. I wasn’t happy at all about what happened to her in the first book, and good to know she wasn’t just some shallow, throwaway plot device never to have a more important purpose again. There are also a few scenes which I felt were done extremely well, especially a particular one near the end in the eerie confines of the underground tunnels. Very imaginative and atmospheric.


Anyway, I’m glad that I’m all caught up now, but unfortunately that also means it’s going to be a long and difficult wait for the end of July, which is when the next book comes out.

66dea-new4stars

Book Co-Review: 25 Perfect Days by Mark Tullius

25 Perfect Days by

Mark Tullius

Expected Date of Publication: June 30, 2013

25 Perfect Days is a collection of twenty-five short stories all linked together in some way, each written from a different character’s point of view. The book spans decades and generations, showing the decline of society into a totalitarian state where the government and a radical religion are one and the same, and overpopulation is leading to massive food shortages, congested cities and pollution. It’s a scary look at how extreme measures to counter these problems can cost the people their personal freedoms.

And as a special treat, since blog contributors Mogsy and Wendy both recently read this, we thought we’d try something different and do a co-review! Thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for providing review copies.

What did you think of 25 Perfect Days’ concept of a dystopian world compared to other books with similar themes?

Wendy: I liked the way things gradually moved into this dystopian future, rather than the usual way the reader is plopped into the chaos and has to learn as we go along. Here, we got to learn with the characters as they were forced into ever worsening situations. Otherwise the concepts that were presented were their own
reasonably unique twists on many things we’ve seen so far, such as the all powerful church combining with state to create this oppression. Some elements, like the weight requirements, were new to me. That chapter was particularly shocking and it was frightening to see the lengths people were going to to remain under the ever decreasing weight cut off.

Mogsy: Yeah, I agree that as dystopian novels go, I thought Mark Tullius did a great job creating his disturbing vision of what could happen if a government is given too much power over its people. And I feel the same way as you regarding the gradual move into the dystopian future. Usually when I read these kinds of books, the dystopia is already in place, as in whatever took place to bring the society to this state has already happened and is in the past.

In 25 Perfect Days, however, we get to see an interpretation of the actual process, the slippery slope which leads to the downfall of a society. Like the book’s blurb says, something like this simply doesn’t
just happen overnight. It happens by degrees, and I thought the
author’s way of presenting the novel was a brilliant idea and also quite realistic.

What did you like about the book? What did you think the author did well?

Wendy: I liked the entire concept of moving through these twenty-five days, spelling out this horrible world and the people within it. I liked the way the chapters made you have to think and infer what the different situations meant in order to paint the overall picture of this society. I liked the way the chapters intertwined with the ramifications of actions in the previous chapters weaving through the story, along with the various players.

Mogsy: Yep, the aspect I liked about the book was its creative format, letting the story unfold over a series of short stories that each have their own focus, but are also interlinked through either events or the

relationships between characters. It wasn’t obvious at first, but after
the first few stories, I think a bulb suddenly flashed on in my head and
I understood. After that, trying to figure out the connections between
the stories became an enjoyable part of the reading experience itself.

Of all the characters in 25 Perfect Days’, whose story did you like the most and why?

Mogsy: Of
all the characters in the book, I think I liked Maria Salazar and her
family the best. She was one of the more memorable characters, and since one of the major themes in this book is about the love and sacrifice needed to survive and overcome the tyranny, I thought the Salazars’ stories were all perfect examples.

One of the earlier chapters about Maria’s fight to come up with the money to keep her newborn daughter was heartbreaking to read, especially for a mother. And then of course there was the story about Enrique and how he risked everything in order to procure food for his family, not to mention Vanessa Salazar, just an infant at the beginning of this book, who grows up to be a major part of the resistance along with her own child. Their family just seems to be quite central to the book.

Wendy: Honestly, none of the characters really stuck out
for me enough to like their stories or the characters themselves
because they weren’t around long enough. There were characters that I wanted to like and know more about, like the Salazars, but because of the format of the book, we never get enough time with any given character and when we see them next, years have passed.

What didn’t you like about the book? What aspect of the book needs improvement?

Wendy: Unfortunately, what I liked about the book is also, I think, its major flaw. The brief chapters developed the world, but it didn’t strongly develop the story, and worse, it didn’t give me enough time with the characters. Many of them had some really great moments, particularly the ones that sacrificed themselves to help others escape, but other than the obvious nature of their motivations, there just wasn’t enough depth to any of them. And since many would show up in the future chapters, it was a bit frustrating when other characters that I thought were important, based on the amount of time spent with them in their chapters, didn’t show up at all. By the end of the book, I was just confused with the names, feeling like I needed a spreadsheet on the wall to keep track of everyone. There is a character glossary in the back, but even that proved too confusing. 

Mogsy: I had a similar problem. While I liked the format with all the linked stories and the twenty-five perspectives, this also made it very hard to connect to any one character. Personally, that’s very important to me as  reader. It’s why I usually hesitate to pick up anthologies or collections of short stories. 

Like I said, there were some central characters or families that play a larger role or are more central to the overall story, but that left the more minor characters in the background. It was hard to keep track of the relationships, especially when it was a struggle to remember certain people. If it weren’t for the list of characters and their connections at the end of the book, I wouldn’t have been able to remember most of them on my own. I just think that in a book like this, where almost everyone and their stories are linked in some way or another, not being able to recall the details for some of them or why they’re important diminishes the full effect somewhat. Interesting how our opinions have such similarities.

Wendy: I wasn’t a fan of the ending, where
we suddenly have new creatures to deal with. I didn’t feel like this was as gradually developed as the other horrific aspects of this future and therefore when these creatures appeared, I had to check if I’d missed some pages. The end felt a bit rushed. It felt
like it wanted to prepare for a sequel, but then changed its mind and
decided to decimate the remaining characters to ensure a unhappy,
reasonably hope-free ending. 

Any final comments about the book?

Mogsy: Overall, 25 Perfect Days was a good read that kept me turning the pages and wondering how much worse this dystopian society could get. Though, now that Wendy’s mentioned it in her answer to the last question, I do think the writing could have used a bit more tightening up, especially when it comes to the action scenes. Some of them were quite difficult to follow, especially when it comes to who does what and who speaks certain dialogue. Just some more description and detail into the setting and action would help me play the scenes out in my head and see them a lot clearer. Other than that, I enjoyed this and didn’t mind the darker ending too much. It’s also nice to read a dystopian novel with elements in it that are more reminiscent of the classics.

Wendy: I’d give this book a B for the effort, but the execution could us some more work to make it cleaner. The chapters could have used more fleshing out to, in turn, allow the characters to be more fleshed out. But I do love the concept and loved that I was completely thrown off of my expectations with the very first chapter. I suppose I was expecting something a lot more pleasant, at least to start, from a book with the word “perfect” in the title!

Mogsy’s final verdict:
 3 of 5 stars

 

Wendy’s final verdict:

 2.5 of 5 stars

Film Review: Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

What is a movie review doing in a book blog, you might ask? Well you see, I would reply conspiratorially, I cheated.

Persepolis – the graphic novel – was the topic of discussion in our recent Ladies Night Comic Club meeting, but procrastination various distractions and priorities got in the way of me reading it. Since the film is so close to the source material, I decided to check that out instead.

This is an autobiographical story about Marjane Satrapi’s coming of age during the Iranian Revolution. The  majority of the animation is in black and white, which gives the film a more universal appeal. The simplicity of the imagery manages to convey so much complexity and emotion. Often times as I watched it, I forgot when it takes place (1980s) and that it takes place in Iran – which was the author’s intent. It was easy to realize how alike we are and to wonder about the potential for such events to occur within our own cultures at any time. I recently walked away from The Handmaid’s Tale thinking that, while frightening, we are not quite there yet with some of the political and religious movements in North America. But, watching Persepolis made me realize just how close other nations are to that kind of dystopian future. And maybe we’re not so far away here either.

Marjane’s story begins with her as a rebellious child who wants to be a prophet and idolizes Bruce Lee. She is outspoken and throughout the story I often thought her rebellious moments would lead to her own punishment, like her Uncle Anouche who is imprisoned and later killed for his left-wing ideals. Undoubtedly, her greatest influence and my favourite character is Marjane’s grandmother, who provides moral guidance for Marjane and admonishes her when she forgets to stay true to herself or takes for granted the sacrifices others have made. Her parents are depicted in a quiet, subdued manner, but it is clear that their love, encouragement, comfort and support are also an important part of Marjane’s life. I loved the way they were always willing to stand behind her without questioning her or her mistakes, while her grandmother represented an unapologetic view that has no time for the indulgence of self-pity.

I expected Marjane’s life story to result in some sort of epic anarchistic moment where she firmly takes up the cause to fight the powers that be. Instead, we see a gentle coming of age story where Marjane goes through many of the trials and tribulations, loves and losses of any normal person – only, this life is set with the backdrop of war, political strife, revolution, repression, sacrifice and more. And then I realized the obvious: this film is the result of her life. This film is the moment of epic anarchy where she firmly takes up the cause. Only, she’s done it in such a way that nothing is forced on you. Nothing is preachy. It’s interesting to note that Persepolis was banned in many places, including Iran, of course, only to have the bans lifted (though with some restrictions still imposed in some places).

66dea-new4stars

Book Review: The Monstrumologist by Rick Yancey

I won’t claim Young Adult speculative fiction as my main interest, though lately, it does feel like I’ve been on a YA kick. I like picking it up occasionally, but it always seems like my favorite books in the genre are the ones that can be enjoyed by all ages, the ones that don’t scream “YA!” the instant I open the book and meet its teenage protagonists. You know what I mean.

That probably has a lot to do with why I absolutely adored this book. I wanted a change from the paranormal high school romances, and the fact that The Monstrumologist is horror, told from the perspective of a 12-year-old boy, and takes place in late-1800s New England are all big pluses. The novel is presented as the diary of Will Henry, an orphan working as an assistant/apprentice to the odd Dr. Pellinore Warthrop who is a monstrumologist, someone who studies monsters.Still, some caveats: while this book is technically categorized as YA, I still wouldn’t recommend this lightly to any young reader. It contains plenty of content that are what I call the 3GRs: gross, gruesome, graphic. No question about it, if adapted completely faithfully, a movie based on this novel would get an R-rating…a solid hey-kid-how-the-hell-did-you-sneak-in-here-without-an-accompanying-adult resounding R-rating.

I can’t remember the last time I was this creeped out by a book. Again, here I am shocked that this is actually YA — for two reasons, really. First, the horror aspects were extremely well done, and while the book’s breakneck pace wasn’t so surprising, the quality of writing and descriptiveness is of a caliber I wouldn’t expect from a young adult novel. And second, maybe I’m just not savvy enough to the stuff going on in today’s YA fiction scene, but I was completely blindsided at how violently and vividly gory this book was.
Of course, good horror isn’t only about the blood and gore. Thankfully, the author has the other factors covered too, with plenty of suspense and atmosphere-building. It always impresses me when a book can immerse me so deeply and grab me like this, as in like, wow, I’m so glad I’m not a claustrophobe too, or those last few chapters would have been even more unsettling.
In fact, much of the book actually feels specifically crafted to enthrall and frighten, with a deliberate shock-factor involved perhaps, but I was still more than happy to go along with the ride. After all, I love this kind of stuff. My friends in my gaming circle will know how obsessed I am with a paranormal/horror-themed MMORPG called The Secret World, mostly for its spooky setting and atmosphere. I have to say The Monstrumologist sucked me in immediately as well, exactly because it was dripping with those very same vibes. I just eat this stuff up.
Anyway, in my humble opinion, it was the monsters that made the book. Rick Yancey chose to make it about Anthropophagi, which means “people eaters”…enough said. While they’re not Yancey’s original creation (mythology or literature buffs will probably recognize Anthropophagi from Shakespeare), the unique spin he adds to the creatures makes them absolutely terrifying.

From the Corner Ink Journal blog
For example, the book begins with a grave robber showing up at Warthrop’s house, presenting him with the corpse of girl with a dead Anthrophage wrapped around her body. She has half her face eaten off, her throat is chewed up, and then a tiny fetus of an Anthropophagus is found in her womb. Ick, ick, ick! See what I mean about disturbing imagery and description intended to give the reader chilling thoughts? If that stuff makes you uncomfortable, I would stay away.
The other factor that adds to the creepiness is the characters. I loved our main protagonist Will Henry and the narrating style the author gave him, which is believably suited to that historical period. That’s another reason why this book doesn’t read like a typical YA novel; not only has Yancey adapted the vernacular and vocabulary to the times, Will Henry also lacks the modern preteen/teen protagonist attitude that’s so common in YA fiction.
Still, as much as I adored Will Henry, compared to the rest of the cast, he was probably the most normal and boring. Dr. Pellinore Warthorp, if he were alive today, would probably have been diagnosed immediately with a personality disorder, but he was also very interesting, filled out and well-written. There are so many layers to him that I spent half the book trying to make up my mind about his character, and actually enjoyed figuring him out along with Will Henry. Then there was Kearns, who is, in a word, insane.
Anyway, bottom line? I think I’ve found a new favorite young adult author, and his name is Rick Yancey.

11817-5stars