Seventeen-year-old Alex Morales works hard with his eyes on a good college. He even works in a local pizza joint to pay for his own private Catholic school uniforms to help his Mami and Papi. Papi is in Puerto Rico for his mother’s funeral and Mami is working late when an asteroid strikes the moon and everything changes. New York City is struck by flooding and loss of infrastructure. Alex is left alone to care for his two younger sisters, Julie and Briana, and slowly he begins to think that maybe things will always be this bad. Maybe Mami and Papi will never come back, the moon will never look right again, and there will never be a world where he can go to college and not be left caring for his little sisters.
I inhaled the first book in this series, in spite of the scientific flaws (which I addressed in my review of the first book). Miranda’s journal ends so abruptly that I was eager to get to the next book right away. I was surprised, then, when the second book starts back before the moon is struck with an entirely different family in a different area of the country. This book shows Pfeffer’s abilities as a writer by showing the same apocalyptic event seen in the first book from the perspective of an entirely different family.
Miranda’s family is suburban-rural, agnostic/atheist humanist, blended (divorced parents with one remarried), and white. Alex’s family is urban (NYC), Latino, and devotedly Catholic. Both families are given room to have strengths and flaws, most of which have nothing to do with where they live, their ethnicities, or their religions (or lack of one). I honestly was startled to see Alex and his and his sisters’ strong faith treated with such respect in this book after Miranda’s lack of faith was treated with equal respect in the first. It’s easy, particularly in a book written as a journal, to mistake a character’s beliefs for an author’s, and Miranda, a teenage girl, has very strong beliefs. This book reminded me that those beliefs were just Miranda’s, just as Alex’s beliefs are just his, and it shows how well Pfeffer is able to write characters.
Some readers may find it odd and frustrating to go back in time to relive the apocalypse over again with different characters. I personally enjoyed it, because the world falling apart is one of the best parts of post-apocalyptic fiction for me. I also liked having the opportunity to see differences in how the apocalypse plays out based both on the location (suburban/rural versus urban) and the characters’ personalities and reactions. However, that said, I can see how this set-up of two vastly different sets of characters in books one and two could be off-putting to certain readers. Some religious readers may be turned off by the first book and Miranda’s staunch atheism. Those who read the first book and enjoy it for precisely that reason may similarly be turned off by the second book’s heavy Catholicism and faith. The diversity is a good thing but it also makes it hard to pinpoint an audience for the series. Those who are open to and accepting of other belief systems would ultimately be the best match but that’s a demographic that can sometimes be difficult to find or market to. However, if a reader is particularly looking for a diverse set of viewpoints of the apocalypse that is more than just characters’ appearances, this series will be a great match for them.
It should also be mentioned that this book is not a journal. It is told in third person, from Alex’s viewpoint, although the dates are still mentioned. It makes sense to do it this way, since Alex definitely does not come across as a character with the time or the inclination to keep a journal. It would have been interesting to view the apocalypse from the viewpoint of a boy who did keep a journal, however.
The plot makes sense and brings in enough danger without being overly ridiculous. It would have been nice to have maybe started the book just a bit earlier in the week to see more of Alex’s day-to-day life before the disaster. Instead, we learn about it through flashbacks, which makes it a bit harder to get to know him than it was to get to know Miranda.
Overall, this is a surprising and enjoyable second book in this post-apocalyptic series that lets readers relive the apocalypse from the first book over again with a different set of characters. This approach lends diversity to the series, as well as bringing in a greater variety of scenarios for those who enjoy the apocalypse process. Recommended to those looking for a diverse presentation of beliefs and how those impact how characters deal with an apocalypse.
4 out of 5 stars
I post series reviews after completing reading an entire series of books. It gives me a chance to reflect on and analyze the series as a whole. These series reviews are designed to also be useful for people who: A) have read the series too and would like to read other thoughts on it or discuss it with others OR B) have not read the series yet but would like a full idea of what the series is like, including possible spoilers, prior to reading it themselves or buying it for another. Please be aware that series reviews necessarily contain some spoilers.
A nursing home contacts a researcher. An elderly man has passed away. He identified himself to them as Will Henry, but they can’t find any record of him or living relatives. He left behind four folios, telling what he claimed to be his life story. The first folio begins when his parents die in a fire, and he is left in the care of his father’s employer, Dr. Warthrop. In the 1800s. Over 100 years ago. And Dr. Warthrop is a Monstrumologist. He specializes in the study of aberrant biology, or monsters. And Will is now his apprentice. The first thing Dr. Warthrop tells Will is that Will Henry contracted a parasite from his father. Normally deadly, he is mysteriously a safe host. The parasite will make him abnormally long-living, and any contact that is too close will make him pass it along to another.
What follows over the course of the folios is the tale of the monsters Will Henry faced alongside and because of Dr. Warthrop. The anthropophagi–headless creatures with mouths in their stomachs. The wendigo–similar to a werewolf. The Typheus Magnificum–the Holy Grail of Monstrumology that may or may not exist. And finally the Titanoboa Cerrejonensis–a giant snake. There are these monsters, yes. But there are also the questionable choices and personalities of the various Monstrumologists, and the slowly unwinding monster inside a boy who has seen too much and been loved too little.
The question left for the researcher is how can Will Henry continue along an increasingly dark path when all signs indicate he eventually happily married his childhood sweetheart? And are these ramblings true or just the fairy tale of an elderly man?
Monsters and madness encircle Will Henry, Dr. Warthrop, the researcher, and the reader as the folios slowly reveal all.
It’s horror based in the realms of science and the grotesque. Wanton blood and guts, serial killers, etc… won’t be found but it also doesn’t shy away from bits of the criminal underworld or real bodily danger. Will Henry loses a finger at one point. The monsters are real and frequently either eat people or turn people themselves into monsters. It combines to elicit horror in the reader in the tradition of Frankenstein. It’s perfect for readers who shy away from slashers or crime novels but still want a dash of terror.
In lieu of a romance, the relationship at the center of the series is between Will and his guardian, Dr. Warthrop. Yes, the series repeats the common YA trope of an orphan, thereby getting rid of the parents, but just because there are no parents doesn’t mean that there’s no guardian/young person conflict. In fact, I think that having the conflict be between Will and a, to him, incomprehensible older guardian allows for a more free exploration of the difficulties that can arise in this relationship. The fact that Dr. Warthrop is not his father means that Yancey is freer to quickly move into the mixed emotions and misunderstandings that can so easily happen in this type of relationship. Dr. Warthrop has many flaws as a guardian, but he does truly love and care for Will. Will at first feels lost and no connection with Dr. Warthrop, then he grows to love him in spite of his flaws, then he slowly starts to loathe him. Whether or not this loathing is warranted is left up to the reader to decide, and I do think that Yancey succeeds at making it a gray area that each reader will reach a different conclusion on. This relationship gets just as much, if not more, time as the monsters, and it’s one of the things that makes the series worth reading.
Yancey isn’t afraid to not just use, but embrace poetic language and literary allusions. I was truly stunned at the beauty of the language when reading the first book, and that beauty continues throughout the series. It’s like reading an old, Gothic novel, setting the perfect tone for the world building. A YA reader who perhaps hadn’t previously experienced narration like this might after reading it be inclined to seek out similar writing, thus finding some classics. And even if they don’t, it’s a wonderful change of pace for YA.
Setting the story of Will and Dr. Warthrop in the context of the mystery of the modern elderly man, his folios, and the researcher looking into them lends an extra layer to the story that increases its complexity. The researcher is just as curious as the reader to find out more. He also provides some necessary historical facts and questions the veracity of some of Will Henry’s statements. Throughout the series, the researcher is wondering if this actually happened or if it’s all just the imaginings of an elderly man. The ultimate reveal still leaves this a bit of a mystery, letting the reader decide for themselves what they would prefer to be the answer.
The strength of the monsters varies throughout the series. Some are perfectly crafted, such as the anthropophagi. Others can be a bit less frightening or too predictable to be as engaging. This definitely lends to an uneven pace of suspense in the series and could be disappointing to a reader who is more invested in monsters than in the character development.
The ending. The ending must be discussed. *spoiler warning* Will Henry in the last book has turned into a dark, lawless, desperate character. He has been changed by what he has seen. His childhood sweetheart, Lily Bates, finds him frightening and lacking in morals. He blames Dr. Warthrop for all of his issues. While Dr. Warthrop definitely is at fault for not treating Will Henry like an adult and keeping him in the loop for his schemes, Dr. Warthrop also never taught Will to be so cold, desperate, or that it’s ok to wantonly kill. Will ultimately goes on an opiate and sex binge in a prostitution house. Dr. Warthrop finds him and pulls him out, in an attempt to save him. It is then that Willl finds out that the parasites he is infected with will spread with sexual intercourse and kill his partner in a truly grotesque manner, eating them from the inside out. Will gives up on Dr. Warthrop and all relationships and proceeds to travel the world aimlessly. The researcher ultimately discovers that Will later runs into Lily with her new husband. It is then that he reveals that Lily’s husband’s name was Will Henry, and he stole it as a pseudonym for these stories. So he never married Lily. Was never happy. He is now nameless. It’s an incredibly dark ending that leaves the researcher, and the reader, reeling. It was honestly a bit too hopeless for me. It felt as if Yancey was saying Will got sucked down into the monsters in his soul and could find no escape. I prefer to have a bit more hope in the world than that, particularly after spending four books with a character and growing to care for them. *end spoilers*
While I can still appreciate what Yancey was doing and what he was going for–a truly dark book–I feel that any potential readers or gift givers should be aware that it starts dark, gets darker, and there is no light at the end of the tunnel.
There is also a bit of a dearth of female characters in the series. In the two middle books, we get brief exposures to Dr. Warthrop’s old sweetheart and Lily Bates. That’s pretty much it. I’m ok with that, since much of the time is devoted to Will Henry and Dr. Warthrop. I also understand that the time period in which it is set definitely would not have had a female monstrumologist. I think Yancey tries to make up for this by having Lily be determined to be the first female monstrumologist, but I also think he steps back from this plotline in the final book, which disappointed me a bit. Essentially, be aware that if you’re looking for a strong female presence in the plot of your series, look elsewhere.
Overall, this is a unique series that deserves to be in any YA collection. It address young adult/guardian relationships in the rich wrapping of Gothic style horror narrated with a beautiful poetic language. Its historical setting and focus on the boy and his guardian doesn’t lend itself to a strong female presence in the series, although the female characters that do exist are good ones. Its darkness increases throughout the series, so don’t come into this expecting a happy ending. I’m pleased I took the time to read the entire series, and could see reading it again. Recommended to both YA fans looking for something different and Gothic horror fans who don’t normally do YA.
4.5 out of 5 stars
Source: Gift, Audible, and Amazon
The man investigating the folios found with an elderly man who claimed to be over a hundred years old and named Will Henry has reached the final folio containing what this elderly man claimed to have been his life story. The final folio is discombobulated and poetic, and so the investigator arranges it for us to read following the style of Dante’s Inferno. And what a story it tells.
Will Henry is now a bitter, cold teenager still serving Dr. Warthrop. When a man shows up at the door claiming to have a previously thought extinct monstrous snake’s egg for sale, Will Henry takes the acquisition into his own hands. When they bring the egg to New York City for the annual meeting of Monstrumologists, Dr. Warthrop begins to question Will Henry’s loyalty, and Will Henry increasingly ignores all advice, going off on his own bloody ideas. What direction will Will Henry’s and Dr. Warthrop’s lives ultimately take?
There were hints throughout the Monstrumologist series that it was going to continually descend to a dark place. But I must admit I was slightly fooled by the idea put forth multiple times that Will Henry at least for part of his life is happily married. I thought there would be a glimmer of hope in the ending. Boy was I wrong. This is an incredibly dark book, and a series ending that surprised me. While still a strong read, it didn’t hold all the all-encompassing power and grotesque beauty I found in the first two entries in the series.
Yancey takes the poetic language found in the first three books and kicks it up a notch with the inclusion of the Dante-styled method for dividing the book into sections. Beyond that, the language itself becomes increasingly poetic. One line that is repeated a few times throughout the book is:
Time is a line. But we are circles. (page 4)
I found both the structure and the language interesting and gorgeous, and I really appreciate their inclusion in YA literature. I can imagine that many of the younger readers of the book might never have read Dante and seeing this structure in this book might spur them on to check it out. One thing that I’ve enjoyed throughout the series is that Yancey doesn’t shy away from challenging YA readers, and I’m glad to see that continued here.
The monster in this story is delightfully terrifying. An egg that hatches a snake that eats its prey from the inside out? There’s nothing not terrifying about that. Plus the monster is revealed early on, a nice change of pace from The Isle of Blood where we’re left to wonder about it for a long time. There is also a secondary, surprise monster later on that I found to be a disgustingly nice touch.
The plot is quite complex, and yet also makes sense when various aspects of it are revealed. It also manages to still be fresh, even though The Curse of the Wendigo was also set half in New York City. The plot revolves much more around Will Henry and his choices and his personality than around the monster itself, which is appropriate. Dr. Warthrop’s choices are also touched upon, but how everything has affected Will Henry is truly the focus of the plot. It’s an interesting psychiatric study, and I was left truly wondering how things could possibly have worked out differently for either Will Henry or Dr. Warthrop. There are no easy answers, and that gray area is a great setting for horror.
The book spends a lot of time wondering both what makes a monster and if madness can be avoided or escaped. The first is a question addressed earlier in the series, and I think Yancey deals with it eloquently. The second takes quite a dark turn in this book, and I was left feeling empty, hopeless, and saddened.
Madness is a wholly human malady borne in a brain too evolved—or not quite evolved enough—to bear the awful burden of its own existence. (page 170)
It’s certainly valid to view madness as an inescapable pariah for some. I suppose I just have more hope for the world than that. That’s what left me disappointed with the ending. I wanted more hope. Other readers might be less bothered by the tragic end.
Overall, this is a strong final entry in the acclaimed Monstrumologist series. The poetic language is beefed up with a Dante style structure, and the plot is complex, following the ultimate impact on Will Henry of growing up as Dr. Warthrop’s apprentice in Monstrumology. Some readers may be disappointed or overly saddened by the ending lacking a glimmer of hope but others will enjoy its incredibly dark turn. Readers of the previous three books should not miss this one.
4 out of 5 stars
Dindi is about to undergo her people’s initiation test and ceremony that not only welcomes her to adulthood but also will determine whether or not she is a member of the Tavaedi. The Tavaedi are a mix of religious leader, healer, and warrior who cast magic spells by dancing. Since Dindi can see the pixies and other fae, she thinks she has a chance. But no one in her clan has ever successfully become a Tavaedi. Meanwhile, an exiled warrior, Kavio, is attempting to shed his old life and the haunting of his father’s wars and his mother’s powers. But he slowly discovers a deadly plot that brings him directly to Dindi’s initiation ceremony.
It takes something special for me to pick up either a YA or a fantasy book, and this one is both. But Jessica’s review over on The Bookworm Chronicles had me intrigued. A fantasy series based on Polynesian tales and traditions is unique in fantasy. Plus the idea of magic from dancing really appealed to the dancer in me (years of tap and jazz, also many lessons in ballroom, zumba, etc…). When I found out the first book in the series is free on the Kindle, I had to try it out, and I’m glad I did! I really enjoyed the book, and its presence highlights many of the strengths of indie publishing.
The world is richly imagined and well described. The tribes and clans have clearly defined and described cultures that vary from stable farming to warrior to cannibal. The structure of the societies make sense and are rich without being overly detailed. I particularly appreciated that this is a tribal culture fantasy without ever claiming to be the real or imagined history of any known to exist (or to have existed) tribe. It is inspired by Polynesian culture but it is still a fantasy, similar to how medieval fantasy is inspired by the real Middle Ages but never claims to be what happened. This lends itself to rich world building without ever venturing off into ridiculous “historical” fiction.
The plot slowly builds Dindi’s story and Kavio’s story, gradually bringing them together. This is good since Dindi is still young enough that she doesn’t see much of the intrigue going on around her. Dindi’s perspective shows us the day-to-day existence of people in this world, whereas Kavio shows us the higher-ranking intrigue. It didn’t bother me that Dindi starts out a bit innocent because it is clear she will grow in knowledge with time. Meanwhile, bringing in Kavio’s perspective helps establish the world for the reader. There were also enough smaller clashes and twists that I never felt that I knew precisely what was going to happen next.
Although the characters at first seem two-dimensional, they truly are not. Everyone is more than what immediately meets the eye, and I liked that this lesson occurs repeatedly. It’s a good thing to see in YA lit. Dindi is strong, kind, and talented, but she still has her flaws. She is good but she’s not perfect, which makes her a good main character. I also appreciate that what will clearly be a romance eventually between Kavio and Dindi starts out so slowly with longing glances from afar. It’s nice that Dindi and Kavio get a chance to be established as individuals prior to meeting each other, plus the slowly building romance is a nice change of pace for YA lit.
Sometimes the chapter transitions were a bit abrupt or left me a bit lost. With changing perspectives like this, it would be helpful if the chapter titles were a bit less artistic and gave a bit more setting. It’s nice that when perspective changes the cue of the character’s name is given, no matter where it happens, but a bit more than that would be nice at the chapter beginnings. Similarly in scene changes, the break is three pound signs. I think using a bunch of centered tildes or even a customized drawing, such as of pixies, would be nicer. At first when I saw these I thought there was some coding error in the ebook. There also are a few editing mistakes that should not have made it through the final edit, such as saying “suffercate” for suffocate (page 144). As an indie author myself, I know it is incredibly difficult to edit your own book, so I give a pass to minor typos and things like that. However, the entirely wrong word for what the author is trying to say should be fixed. There were few enough that I still enjoyed the book, but I hope that there are less in the future installments of the series.
Overall, this is a unique piece of YA fantasy set in a tribal world inspired by Polynesia. The romance is light and slow-building, and the focus is primarily on growing up and becoming an adult. A few minor formatting and editing issues detract from it being a perfect escape read, but it is still highly enjoyable. I intend to read more of the series, and I recommend it to fantasy and YA fans alike.
4 out of 5 stars
Note: the Kindle edition is free
Ty lives with his pioneer family subsea but he can’t convince his crush Gemma to leave Topside. Why is she so afraid of subsea? This was his biggest problem until his parents get kidnapped by surfs when they attempt to do a trade. Plus, Gemma wants to convince her fugitive brother to let her tag along with him. And townships keep disappearing, only to turn up later, chained up and anchored subsea with everyone dead inside. It’s a giant web of mysteries but do they intertwine at all?
I absolutely loved the first entry in this scifi series, which is unusual for me, since it’s YA. Not generally my genre. So I was excited to see the sequel available on Audible. It’s still an exciting adventure and interesting world but not quite as tightly and expertly constructed as last time.
Whereas Ty’s voice worked perfectly in the first book, in this one he reads a bit young. He went through a lot in the first entry, he should have presumably matured a bit more than he has. Similarly, Gemma hasn’t developed much since the first book either. I think these characters should have been given more space to grow more. Particularly in a YA series, it’s important to let the characters develop and mature at a more rapid rate. That’s the reality for teenagers after all.
Plot-wise, I honestly felt that there was a bit of a deus ex machina at work that also didn’t fully play into the rules of the world as originally set up. Still, though, the mystery is well-plotted and difficult to predict. It includes real danger without being too violent. It’s the perfect level of thriller for a YA reader who’s not so into the gore. On the other hand, I also found it frustrating that Ty’s parents aren’t around for most of the book. One of the things refreshing about the first one was that his parents were actually present and helpful without being too pushy or overshadowing. This time around, Falls went the more popular YA adventure route and just flat-out got rid of them for most of the book.
But the world Falls has built is still rich and unique, and she expanded upon it. We now get to see more of what the surf life is like, in addition to more of the shady side of things, such as the boxing/fighting rings. We also see some more of the government and law enforcement and have a better understanding of the world as a whole. It’s all richly imagined and drawn, right down to what styles of clothes different groups wear to what they eat. One detail I particularly enjoyed was that the surfs, a poor outcast lot, eat a lot of fish and blubber because it’s easy to catch, whereas Ty’s family eats a lot of vegetables because they grow them. Details like that really make a world.
The audiobook narrator, Keith Nobbs, read the whole thing a bit flat for my taste. He didn’t have as much enthusiasm and inflection as I thought was appropriate for a book about a subsea adventure starring two young teenagers! The production quality was high, he was easy to understand, but he didn’t really bring Ty to life. I’d recommend reading the print book over the audio, honestly.
Overall, then, the characters are a bit slow in their development and the plot feels a bit lazier than last time, but the characters are still well-rounded and the plot maintains an appropriate level of mystery. Toss in the richly imagined and describe post-apocalyptic and very wet world, and it’s well worth the read.
4 out of 5 stars