Rating: 2 1/2 stars
Twelve-year-old William Henry James lost his family to a mysterious fire and is now sentenced to live with the strange scientist his father worked for--Dr. Pellinore Withrop, Monstrumologist. Thrust into a macabre and strange life of monstrumology, the boy serves as the doctor's assistant. Constantly at his beck and call, Will Henry gets little sleep and barely manages to get in a meal before being ordered to do something else.
The doctor seems to have no need for sleeping and eating, claiming his "work is what keeps him going". Enduring late night visits to graveyards and mental institutions, Dr. Withrop's constant exclamations of "Snap to, Will Henry!" keeps the boy constantly on his guard and constantly on the go.
In the wee hours of the morning, there is a knock at the door and the body of a young girl with a hideous creature attached to her is brought in and laid upon the lab table. Will Henry is overcome with fear, afraid to be in the same room much less get closer as the doctor beckons him. The monster is declared to be the deadly and vicious Anthropophagi from South Africa -- whose favorite food is humans. The good doctor is eager to find and study them and poor Will Henry has no choice but to follow.
Yancey wrote in a Gothic, Victorian style, which helps to set the time period of New England in the late 1800's but causes the story to feel drawn out and quite dry. As a YA, I'm not sure most young adults will find this style to their liking. The story took a long time to set up and what was lacking in action, Yancey tried to make up for with excessively gory and lengthy descriptions. The descriptions of the monsters, how they ripped apart flesh and tore off their victim’s head etc. was so numerous that after a while it just became repetitive and mundane. However, I'm sure it was done with the tween in mind and their lust for all things gross.
It seemed the bells and whistles were an effort to distract from the fact that there was no real depth to the story or the characters. At 150 pages in, I began to feel real disappointment. I heard such good things about the book that I continued reading in hopes it would get better. By page 250 (half the book), I couldn't go on. Although there had been some good parts, most of the book to this point was the doctor's mutterings and pontification. In addition to studying these monsters, the doctor's only other function seemed to be running poor Will Henry ragged and yelling at him every time he thought about such things as eating and sleeping.
Although I was very excited to get to the "good part" I'd heard so much about, I just couldn't bring myself to forge ahead. Already half way through the book, I was afraid there was no there, there.
Hardcover: 448 pages
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing (September 22, 2009)