Author: Rick Yancey
Genre: Young Adult, Horror, Speculative Fiction
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Children’s
Publication Date: September 2011
Hardcover: 448 Pages
When Dr. Warthrop goes hunting the “Holy Grail of Monstrumology” with his eager new assistant, Arkwright, he leaves Will Henry in New York. Finally, Will can enjoy something that always seemed out of reach: a normal life with a real family. But part of Will can’t let go of Dr. Warthrop, and when Arkwright returns claiming that the doctor is dead, Will is devastated–and not convinced.
Determined to discover the truth, Will travels to London, knowing that if he succeeds, he will be plunging into depths of horror worse than anything he has experienced so far. His journey will take him to Socotra, the Isle of Blood, where human beings are used to make nests and blood rains from the sky–and will put Will Henry’s loyalty to the ultimate test.
Stand alone or series: Book 3 in the Monstrumologist Series
How did I get this book: e-ARC from the Publisher via Galley Grab
Why did I read this book: Last month we received the devastating news that Simon & Schuster had dropped this amazing, wonderful, Printz Honor-winning series. Thankfully, after much lobbying and letter-writing, The Monstrumologist series was granted a reprieve with an additional contracted book! Huzzah! As this series is one of my current favorites (The Curse of the Wendigo was one of my Top 10 Reads of 2010!), I was of course thrilled to dive back into the world of Will Henry and the Monstrumologist with The Isle of Blood.
For two years, William James Henry has lived with and served the most preeminent Monstrumologists the world has ever known, Dr. Pellinore Xavier Warthrop. For two years, he has skittered around the abyss of ultimate darkness, narrowly averting the onslaught of Anthropophagi and the madness of the Outiko, all in service to the Monstrumologist, who is the only thing young Will has in the world. In The Isle of Blood, a mysterious package borne by a terrified courier lands on the Monstrumologist’s doorstep in New Jerusalem, Massachusetts – a “gift” from the charismatic Englishman and madman (as well as nemesis to Pellinore Warthrop), Jack Kearnes. The package is one of the greatest prizes in Monstrumology: a nidus ex magnificum, or nest made of human entrails, preserved and held together by the pwder ser, the rot of the stars. This nidus promises madness and horror to any that touch it, infecting man with an incurable affliction that will consume and ravage his mind and body. Will gets to see this firsthand, as the unfortunate courier could not resist curiosity, and has touched the nidus. The man begins to change, his skin rotting and translucent, his eyes sensitive to light, his appetite so great that he begins to consume his own organs and appendages.
While the nidus is one of the greatest prizes in Monstrumology and Pellinore now is in possession of the only nest, the true prize and holy grail of the study is the creator of the nidus: the fearful Typhoeus Magnificum. The father of all monsters. The Unseen One. Kearnes gifting the nidus to the Warthrop can only mean that he is on the way to find the magnificum – and that is something Warthrop cannot stand to suffer. The race is on to find the great monster, with Will Henry once again following his doctor – but perhaps this time, he follows him too far to ever truly return.
These are dark times, and The Isle of Blood is a dark, dark book. I cannot even begin to truly explain the depths that consume our heroes in this installment, or the impossible questions that Will and Warthrop are forced to answer. Unlike the first two books, this third installment has Will journeying into the heart of darkness, scaling the mountains of madness, and gazing into the Oculos Dei. It is in this novel that Will finds and confronts the Typhoeus Magnificum; the Faceless One of a Thousand Faces; das Ungeheuer; the Monster.
And it is terrifying.
While the other two books, or folios i-vi, are similarly narrated by Will Henry, they have dealt largely with the figure of the Monstrumologist and his motivations and complexity. In contrast, The Isle of Blood is undoubtedly Will Henry’s book. Not only are Will and his Monstrumologist separated for the first time (when Pellinore takes his leave and decides to find the magnificum on his own), but Will is also forced to decide what he needs, to whom he is bound, and the lengths to which he will go to save the doctor. Will is given a chance at normalcy here, given the opportunity to become a regular boy – that is, one that does not associate the color red with the crimson of freshly spilled blood – as once again we meet the irascible Miss Lillian Bates when Will is taken in by her wealthy Upper West Side family. But, as they say, the bell cannot be unrung, and Will is a boy that has seen and done far too much to be able to ever really be “normal” again. His place is with the Monstrumologist, and in this book Will finally gets a chance to make that choice, instead of passively accepting it. As snarled and complicated as their connection is, the bond between the apprentice and his master is, if nothing else, powerful. Will crosses many lines in this book, too, and I am honestly frightened by Will’s thoughts and rationalizations. What kind of man is Will Henry, the aged narrator recalling his past in these folios? What kind of man can grow from a boy that has seen so much horror and done so many terrible things? For the first time in the series, I find myself frightened – truly frightened – for the lost innocence of young Will, and I have no idea how the next book will turn out. I think Warthrop is just as frightened for his ward, too.
While this is predominantly a character-driven book, it also features the most fearsome of any monster we have seen to date in the series. More gory and fearsome than the first two books, The Isle of Blood features the most frightening of infections that could wipe out the human race with a mere touch; a monster that is as old as the stars and just as mysterious. I won’t spoil anything, but this monster, the magnificum, is the most terrible and awesome of all monsters. I loved the way Mr. Yancey handles this particular terror, which resonates in the book’s powerful, deafening climax. While the characterizations and plotting are superb, per usual, my only criticism of this book is that it tends towards self-indulgence at times and reads a tad overlong in some parts. I love the poetic turns of phrases and allegories used by Will throughout (something new and unique to this third novel), but he tends to internalize and repeat the same metaphors on and on, which begins to feel tiresome and somewhat forced.[1. I should note that The Isle of Blood is the longest of the three books and I’ve noticed that my digital ARC has almost 100 more pages than the final book does, so perhaps this is something that has been changed in the final edit stage.]
That minor criticism aside, this is a harrowing, nightmare of a book, beautiful in its cruelty and coldness. I loved it, moreso than the first two books in the series, and it is in the running for one of my favorite books of the year. I just don’t know if it’s the kind of book I’d want to read again because it is that incredibly draining. I mean this in the best way. If you have not read Mr. Yancey’s Monstrumologist series yet, you must. This is one of the most complex horror novels that I have ever read, adult or young adult. And I am so glad we will be getting one more adventure with Will Henry and Pellinore Warthrop.
I followed him into the room. Immediately my hand flew up to cover my nose; the smell was truly overwhelming. It dropped scorching into my luncs. Why hadn’t he opened the window? The monstrumologist seemed oblivious to the reek. He continued to chomp on his apple, even as tears of protest coursed down his cheeks.
“What?” he demanded. “Why are you staring at me like that? Don’t look at me; look at Mr. Kendall!”
He didn’t nudge me toward the bed. I took that step myself.
He did not grab my chin and force me to look.
I looked because I wanted to look. I looked because of the tight thing unwinding, das Ungeheuer, the me/not-me, Tantalus’s greapes, the thing you cannot name. The thing I knew but did not understand. The thing you may understand but do not know.
I flung myself from the room and managed a dozen shuffling steps down the hall before I collapsed. Everything inside gave way. I felt empty. I was nothing more than a shadow, a shell, a hollow carapace that had once dreamed it was a boy.
A shadow fell over me. I did not look up. I knew I would find no comfort from the bearer of that shadow.
You can read a full excerpt online using Simon & Schuster’s “Browse Inside” feature HERE.
Additional Thoughts: Make sure to stop by and check out Rick Yancey’s guest post, as he interviews the Monstrumologist himself. Also make sure to check out this other great review of The Isle of Blood from School Library Journal, and an awesome related article about NON reluctant young readers (followed up with a giveaway of The Monstrumologist) from Fat Girl Reading.
Rating: 8 – Excellent, and leaning heavily towards a 9
Reading Next: Consumed by Kate Cann
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