Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Review of "The Monstrumologist" by Rick Yancey

I can see why a lot of people think The Monstrumologist is a great book. It's dark, gruesome, uses eloquent, descriptive language, and touches on some good themes.

But I just couldn't bring myself to appreciate it.

The main problem was the pace. It dragged and dragged and wouldn't end. Yes, the writing was eloquent, but it was just. so. wordy. It could have easily been cut down to half its length and been twice as successful. And as for all the thematic stuff? An amateur English student would go bonkers for all of the worldly introspection in this book, but there was nothing original about it, and I found it more annoying than anything else.

Another issue is the content. Monsters by themselves make for very boring villains. They roar and chomp and eat you alive, but that's about the extent of it. Not that the choice of monster isn't interesting or unusual--I don't think anyone other than a medieval scholar knows what an anthropophagus is (think monstrous human body with face on its chest and no head). This book actually made me think back to my Monsters of the Middle Ages class from college--which brought up a whole other issue. In our class, we talked about the role of monster tales during the medieval period. One of these roles was to keep people in line--"don't travel too far, the sea monsters will get you." Another was to villainize certain groups, such as women and foreigners. Even though this story is set at least 100 years ago, I would have hoped that a modern take on the monster tale would have examined or subverted these tropes.

But no, this story, if anything, continues the tradition of marginalizing anyone who isn't a white male. The "uncivilized exotic foreigners who keep monsters for sport" trope is here (briefly, and only mentioned through a third party), and there are no major female roles to speak of. The only female characters are nagging wives or fridged young women. (The story starts with a dead young woman who has her body mauled and "impregnated" with the eggs of an anthropophagus--and the narrator repeats multiple times how horrifying it is that her body has been thus defiled (even though she was already dead when the monster found her).) The only female "character" is the biggest and most monstrous of the anthropophagi.

So if you like stories that are antiquated in both style, word count, and worldview, this would be a great book for you. Otherwise, there are a million other books you can read with equally eloquent writing and significantly better plots.

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