I’ve never been a fan of the label “young adult fiction”. Hell, even when I was an actual “young adult”, I turned my nose up at the stuff simply due to the fact that the moniker somehow suggested that, at that age, it was the material I was supposed to be reading rather than just, you know, regular old FICTION. Yeah, yeah, I know; it’s like a rating on a film or videogame, and meant to serve as a guide for parents rather than the intended reader, but, just as with movies, music, and games, it really comes down to how mature the person being exposed to the material is rather than the amount of years they’ve been on this planet. Add to that the fact that young adult fiction pretty much sucked when I was a kid (A Wrinkle in Time notwithstanding), especially young adult horror fiction. Yikes, was that stuff ever bad. Now, bear in mind, I came of age long before things like Goosebumps and the like, so please set down your torches kindly villagers; there will be no lynch mob today. I’m talking late-seventies/early-eighties young adult horror fiction – bloodless, brainless fluff that makes Stephanie Meyers look like Chuck Palahniuk by comparison.
It was only recently that I decided to give young adult horror fiction another look, and I was actually surprised by how much things have changed over the years. A young horror fan’s got it made these days, with gruesome little tales chock full of eviscerations, decapitations, exsanguinations; hell, when I was a kid, we’d be lucky if a character got a bloody nose! And some of these books are downright scary! I mean, sure, it’s not curl-up-in-a-fetal-ball-and-shiver scary, but definitely spooky enough to get the old imagination going once you turn out the lights. A perfect example of this are the Monstrumologist series by Rick Yancey – a series that is equal parts Dickens and King, with a healthy dose of gross-out goodness for gorehounds of all ages.
In the first book of the series, The Monstrumologist, Yancey introduces us to twelve year old Will Henry; an orphan whose parents were in the employ of one Dr.Pellinore Warthrop when a fire claimed their lives, leaving young Will in the good doctor’s care. Will serves as an assistant to Warthrop, who, as a monstrumologist, specializes in the study of…what else?...monsters! In the eponymous first volume, Warthrop and Will must deal with the threat of a potential Anthropophagi infestation, where pint-sized flesh-eating beasties are chomping on the denizens of New Jerusalem. As the duo dig deeper into the origins of the creatures on these shores, their search reveals that the Anthropophagi are far more well-established than Warthrop originally thought, and the doctor must enlist the aid of some less than savory characters, including the sinister Dr. John Kearns, a man who takes far too much delight in exterminating the creatures.
Presented in a quasi-journal style (with a touch of verisimilitude, Yancey, himself, is given Will Henry’s “folios” by his editor in the prologue, and presents them to us with no small amount of apprehension) The Monstrumologist is a fast-paced, extremely well-written tale, filled with wonderfully nuanced characters, imaginative creatures, and some truly gruesome imagery. Were it not for the age of the central protagonist and the fact that there’s nary a cuss word or sexual situation to be found, Yancey’s expertly crafted tome would most certainly be the sort of novel that genre fans would hail as…oh, I dunno…the second coming of something (isn’t that always the case with new writers?). While it’s certainly “teen friendly” in some regards, this book would be just as at home on the shelves alongside Barker, King, and Lovecraft as it is with Rowling, Stine, and Shan. Yancey showcases some serious literary chops in constructing this delightfully “old school” monster yarn, and, now that I’ve burned my way through the excellent second installment – The Curse of the Wendigo – I’m officially a fan. Highly recommended!