Author: E.B. Hudspeth
Genre: Historical, Horror, Speculative Fiction
Publisher: Quirk Books
Publication Date: May 2013
Hardcover: 208 Pages
Philadelphia, the late 1870s.
A city of gas lamps, cobblestone streets, and horse-drawn carriages—and home to the controversial surgeon Dr. Spencer Black. The son of a grave robber, young Dr. Black studies at Philadelphia’s esteemed Academy of Medicine, where he develops an unconventional hypothesis: What if the world’s most celebrated mythological beasts—mermaids, minotaurs, and satyrs—were in fact the evolutionary ancestors of humankind?
The Resurrectionist offers two extraordinary books in one. The first is a fictional biography of Dr. Spencer Black, from a childhood spent exhuming corpses through his medical training, his travels with carnivals, and the mysterious disappearance at the end of his life. The second book is Black’s magnum opus: The Codex Extinct Animalia, a Gray’s Anatomy for mythological beasts—dragons, centaurs, Pegasus, Cerberus—all rendered in meticulously detailed anatomical illustrations. You need only look at these images to realize they are the work of a madman. The Resurrectionist tells his story.
Stand alone or series: Standalone
How did I get this book: Review Copy from the Publisher
Format (e- or p-): Print
Why did I read this book: I’m a fan of Quirk Books – I like their blend of novelty geek-friendly books, and the past couple of full-fledged SFF titles I’ve read from them (Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, Bedbugs) have been wonderful. So, when I learned of The Resurrectionist – part fictional biography, part illustrated codex – I was delighted. When we were offered the chance to interview E.B. Hudspeth and feature image reveals from the book, I became even more excited. Needless to say, I’ve been looking forward to reading this book.
What a miracle it is to be human! I endeavor to write this account of my life, teh chronicling of my study and experience with the Academy of Medicine here in Philadelphia – not my place of birth. It was not by my choosing that I would pursue a career in medicine – this is a matter of fate, God, destiny, or some other weapon of man.
Born in 1851, young Spencer Black grew up without a mother, with a scientist grave robber – or “Resurrectionist” – of a father. Thus, from a young age, Spencer was well acquainted with Death.
Despite his macabre beginnings, however, Spencer’s studies and career as a doctor are bright. Quickly, he makes a name for himself as a brilliant scientific mind with a penchant for big ideas and an unparalleled success rate. He weds a woman whom he loves, and starts a family. Every possible future in Spencer’s life is bright and shining with potential.
But then, as it happens so often in the canon of the mad scientist, death and obsession possess young Spencer, twisting his idealism and passion into something tortured and dark. After losing one of his children, Spencer divers ever-deeper into his research of mutations and the human form, leading to gruesome experiments and his expulsion from the ranks of respected scientists. His theory that the supernatural creatures of myths such as satyrs and sirens are actually real and predecessors of modern humans – that mutations are a hearkening back to these forms and steps on the evolutionary ladder – is emphatically rejected by his former colleagues. His Codex Extinct Animalia is met with universal criticism, and only a scant handful of copies are printed. Reduced to a sideshow in a travelling circus, Spencer continues his crusade to beat death and correct mutation – a mission that Spencer completes, but at the ultimate cost.
Part fictional biography, part illustrated scientific field guide to monsters of legend, The Resurrectionist is, conceptually, a pretty groovy book. As a package, with its larger trim size and two-color illustrations (not to mention sketches throughout the biography section), The Resurrectionist is gorgeously, deliciously creepy in its composition. The biggest strength and draw to this series are these carefully considered and labeled illustrations of fierce mythological and fantastical creatures. In Doctor Black’s notes, he explains how the frail human bones could support the towering, disproportionate weight of an elephant head and tusks (Ganesha Orientis), how a mermaid would have evolved from an air-breathing mammal to respirating through gills while still possessing a human ribcage (Siren Oceanus), or how a horse with wings would need air sacs throughout its body to breathe and fly (Pegasus Gorgonis). Each of the creatures within Black’s Codex are drawn with care, featuring multiple pages and sketches of musculature, bones, and written scientific explanation – truly, this is a type of Grey’s Anatomy for the macabre. To me, these sketches are the heart and soul of the book and infinitely more compelling than the book’s other half…
Which brings me to The Story. In actuality, Doctor Spencer Black’s biography is shockingly brief. We’re talking 65 pages brief. Novella brief. The length isn’t really the issue, though – the problem with the biography section is how frankly mundane it is. Spencer Black’s story is one that we’ve heard before; it’s the story of Victor Frankenstein, of Doctor Moreau, Faustus, and Rotwang. It is a trope that I love when it is done correctly – see Rick Yancey’s masterful Monstrumologist books, or Kenneth Oppel’s This Dark Endeavor – but The Resurrectionist, unfortunately isn’t quite in the same league. Narrated in a decidedly modern voice reflecting and piecing together Spencer’s story with letters and journal entries from Doctor Black (and his older brother Bernard), the biography itself feels scattered and inconsistent. The voice of Spencer in his letters and journals feels slightly too contemporary for the late 19th century (made all the more glaring with the modern voice of the biographer) and the familiar progression of Doctor Black’s demise by hubris is predictable and lacking the necessary elegance and uniqueness to make this part of the book truly memorable.
These criticisms said, The Resurrectionist is much more than just a 70 page fictitious biography – it is a work of art and a gorgeously composed package, and for that reason The Resurrectionist is certainly worth the read. And, while I’m giving the novella portion a hard time, at least it is a quick and absorbing enough read which lends important perspective to the drawings that dominate the page count (each of which are far more compelling than the writing). Especially that last drawing, Spencer Black’s piece de resistance: The Harpy. Oh, trust me – the Harpy is GOOD.
In other words: come for the killer premise, stay for the Codex Extinct Animalia. Recommended, albeit with some reservations.
Notable Quotes/Parts: We have NINE (that’s right, nine) exclusive images from the book, detailing the gorgeously creepy Sirenus Oceanus (aka, the Mermaid).
Rating: 6 – Good, with some truly amazing artwork
Reading Next: The End Games by T. Michael Martin
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