“You cannot be human and not see it, feel its pull, hear its whisper like thunder. You would flee from it, but it is you, and so where might you run? You would embrace it, but it is not-you, and so how might you hold it?”
~Will Henry, The Monstrumologist: The Isle of Blood
Among the joys and sorrows of growing up and growing old, one of the most persistent and troubling realizations is that we aren’t the people we were the day before and, worse yet, we may not like the people we see ourselves becoming. The innocence of childhood recedes farther backward into inky memory, the luxury of honesty stripped away by circumstance, the committing of our hearts to another transformed into our ruin.
But is it possible to step back from that brink, to live the lives we know we should?
Such are the weighty questions asked and answered by protagonist Will Henry in Rick Yancey’s The Isle of Blood, the chilling, enthralling, and heart-wrenching third volume in Rick Yancey’s Printz-winning Monstrumologist series. This adventure finds young Will Henry now 13 years old and still in a relationship of conflict with monstrumologist–monster hunter–Pellinore Warthrop. He is devoted to the doctor, yet enraged by him, bouyed by his slightest praise, yet crushed by his perceived betrayals.
Such is Will Henry’s situation when the story opens. But adventure swiftly steps in, in the form of an Englishman bearing a gift from Dr. John “Jack the Ripper” Kearns, the famed culprit of the Whitechapel murders, and one-time ally of Will Henry and the doctor from Yancey’s first Monstrumologist book. And what a grisly gift it is. In a box borne by an Englishman, the psychopathic Kearns sends a nidus, a nest built of human remains drenched in the bile of a faceless creature, the Holy Grail of monstrumology, the magnificum. The appearance of the nidus sends the monstrumologist in to the frenzy of adventure, but when he goes to hunt the magnificum he leaves a consequently devastated Will Henry behind. With the doctor’s departure, Will can live the life of a normal boy, but his thoughts return ever to the doctor. Then, when word returns that Warthrop is dead, Will Henry refuses to believe it, and begins down a road that could end with the greatest discovery in the monstrumological world, and the ruin of Will Henry’s soul along with it.
Put simply, I haven’t been this engaged or excited in a series since I fell in love with the adventures of a certain boy wizard many years ago. By this outing in his series, Yancey clearly knows his characters to a “T”, from their nineteenth century dialect to the conflicted inner workings of their hearts. And that conflict is what makes this series, and The Isle of Blood in particular, such a spectacular read. It has been a through-line of the all the books so far–Will Henry’s insecurities over the doctor’s feelings toward him in The Monstrumologist, and the readers’ uncertainty over the doctor’s emotional / romantic state in The Curse of the Wendigo. Now, in The Isle of Blood, the conflict is two-fold in that Will Henry is conflicted over both the doctor’s need of him, and of who he is becoming as the monstrumologist’s assistant. Or is it his apprentice? Yancey draws a fine line in this book between the two roles–Will Henry as the assistant who distances himself from and is disgusted by the monstrumologist’s work, and Will Henry as the apprentice whose evolution is fraught with decisions that threaten to bring him closer to the edge of a spiritual abyss into which he would tumble forever, his innocence falling away like rot from the sky.
And what better paper to wrap the drama in than some of the finest suspense and gore ever committed to the printed page? The Monstrumologist series must be known for nothing if not the horrific scenes both the protagonists and the readers must endure and The Isle of Blood, while not as gruesome to this critic as certain, later scenes in Curse of the Wendigo, are still just as capable of making your heart burst with fright. From heart-wrenching executions to emergency amputations to oozing monster hordes, this one has it all.
Rick Yancey is an author that has always delivered the goods, and The Isle of Blood is no exception. This is a book readers should cherish not only for its sheer (and enormous) entertainment value, but also for the beautiful prose on display, the rich characters, the intriguing world Yancey’s built, and the darker approach to themes of the parent-child relationship (between Warthrop and Will Henry) and loss of innocence so rarely and, here, beautifully, on display. I can’t wait to read The Isle of Blood again.