Monday, January 24, 2011

Exploring Humanity's Dark Side...Again

The Curse of the Wendigo
by Rick Yancey

After reading the first installment of The Monstrumologist last autumn, I greatly anticipated the release of the sequel. I received a copy for Christmas and began to read it on the bus home to Chicago (completing about half of it during the trip). While Will and our Byronic doctor return, none of the other characters from the first novel make an appearance in this installment (my husband was rather disappointed with the absence of Kearns, though I've read that he is in the upcoming third novel). As in the first installment, the writing attempts to mimic that of the Victorian Era in which it is set and utilizes several apt literary allusions throughout the course of the work, including that of Dante's Inferno. This installment also includes several historical figures (Jacob Riis, Bram Stoker) in secondary roles, which I felt helped the work with its goal of being read as truth.

While the first book's monster is clearly presented as such, things are not so black and white in this second installment. When Warthrop's best friend goes missing in Canada while investigating the wendigo myth, his wife Muriel (Warthrop's former fiancee) convinces Warthrop to search and retrieve him. Numerous bizarre events occur during the hunt, but Yancey never clearly states if the wendigo is a supernatural being or the psychological ailment that shares its name. This may disappoint younger fans looking for monsters, but we older readers know well that mankind is often the most terrifying monster of them all. Just as the monstrous actions of Dr. Alastair Warthrop were juxtaposed with those of the anthropophagi in the first book, here we are asked once again if one's actions can lead us to become monsters. Was it Chanler's jealousy, both of his wife's love for Warthrop and of Warthrop's superior skills as a monstrumologist, that ultimately led to his dissent into madness? Or did he truly ride the wind and become a wendigo?

The first installment was quintessentially gothic. The action took place in a small town remote from the rest of society, and there were various forays to cemeteries and mad houses. We questioned humanity through the lens of a Byronic hero, who, though extremely intelligent, was equally moody and arrogant. And while he remains in this installment, the shift between the frontier gothic reminiscent of Charles Brockden Brown and the urban gothic that dominates the latter half of the book is a bit jarring. Rather than trying to pay homage to both sub-categories of gothic literature, I feel that the work would have been stronger should it have focused on one or the other. But this is a minor complaint.

Those who enjoyed The Monstrumologist will surely also enjoy The Curse of the Wendigo. And any who complained about a lack of character backstory in the previous installment will be quite gladdened by the amount of information given about our good doctor.

Once again, I look forward to reading the next installment, Isle of Blood, which is to be released this fall. Given its setting in the Middle East, I am curious if it will include any references to William Beckford's Vathek, but I suppose I shall see soon enough.

Grade: A-

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