This second installment of the Monstrumologist series got off to a rocky start with me, through no fault of its own.
For the love of all that is good, do not get this in audiobook format. It was terrifyingly bad. Laughably bad. I began to question my pleasant, yet gory, memories of the first book. As it turns out, a poor narrator can ruin a brilliant book. I finally gave up when the man proved unable to pronounce words like "inchoate." Granted, it's not a word we use everyday, but if you're familiar with the detailed and flowery language used by fancy-pants smarty-pants people about a century ago, you'll know that their vocabulary was very good. Besides, if you don't know how to pronounce something, look it up in a dictionary. Don't just have a go at it and mumble out "In-Cho-Ah-Tee."
So I spent like six hours listening to about forty percent of the book, because the narrator spoke very slowly. Once I got my hands on the physical book, I couldn't put it down. The Curse of the Wendigo is much more intricate than The Monstrumologist, but in the best ways.
Here I must confess that I have an awful habit of developing book-crushes on anti-social, possibly evil, brooding, and sarcastic characters. Take Talis from The Scorpion Rules, for example. He's an AI with a penchant for blasting the Earth with lasers, but he's got a certain charm about him. I know I'm shipping myself with an AI, but who cares? In the first Monstrumologist book, Dr. Pellinore Warthrop came off as being older than he really is (was?), and his personality was a bit one-note. Yancey really expands his character in Wendigo, so we see, at least partially, why he is the way he is. Tortured soul, lost the love of his life to his best friend and so forth.
If this were a paper for my high school English class (which, thank heavens, it is NOT), I would have to write about dichotomy as a theme in the book. I do have to bring it up here, because it is so beautifully done. Yancey presents us with these radically different characters, settings, and feelings, and yet somehow they all work to create a cohesive whole.
There's a poetic exploration of the nature of love in all its forms. "I can't help loving you, so I choose to hate you," says one character. It's clear from Will Henry's introduction to his story that he both loves and hates and loves the Monstrumologist--it is difficult to separate the two emotions. All of the "Snap to, Will Henry!"s drive him mad, but at the same time, Will's worst nightmare is to be separated from the doctor.
Honestly, although the plot of this was very good, it was the prose and the underlying character exploration that really resonated with me. However, Yancey cleverly ties in many historical figures to the narrative, which is something that pleases me inordinately in books. What are the events that cause Pellinore Warthrop's mask to crack and show some sort of feeling?
Monstrumologists the world over are preparing for their annual meeting, but Warthrop receives word via anonymous note that his mentor, and head of the Monstrumological Society, Doctor Abram Von Helrung, will propose to enter some of the more fantastical beasts in human folklore into the scientific monstrumological canon. Creatures like vampires and werewolves, which Warthrop knows don't exist. The man who hunts monsters does not believe in any monster associated with a rich folkloric background, it seems. Von Helrung's other protégé, John Chanler, with whom Warthrop grew up and studied, heads to the western wilds of Canada to search out the Wendigo, a sort of North American vampire variant. This is a creature that gorges itself on human flesh but can never be satisfied.
Chanler and his guide disappear. His wife, Muriel, comes to Warthrop for help, and he sets out to save Chanler with a sort of love and zeal that is utterly foreign to his assistant, young William James Henry. It is an arduous, horrifying trek, but Chanler is found and returned to his wife.
Unfortunately, he's not just Chanler anymore.
We move from the barren wastelands--the Desolation--of the Canadian forests to the opulent homes of New York's rich and richer. Fancy balls, waltzing, and near-death adventures await Will in grand New York City. At this point in the story, I felt like I was on a horse headed pell-mell for disaster, and all I could do was hang on. Indeed, the ending left me emotionally drained--I can't even explain it to you. I can only say, as we book nerds do, that I had ALL THE FEELS.
This is a marvelous series. Do stay away if descriptions of frozen viscera, dismemberment, and skinning bother you. Or, you know, Mongolian Death Worms.