It’s 2015, and Denny Younger of New Cardiff, California, is a caste of 8. He loves reading and studying but he knows he will probably end up working in the shops just like his father. But when he takes his placement test, he’s offered a position that he is promised is better, but he can’t know anything about it until he starts working, and he must leave his family behind. Denny’s family life is in pieces, so he eagerly agrees. Before he knows it, he is re-caste as a 5 and soon discovers that he will be traveling through time as an observer, recording family histories for the elite. Even the smallest error in time-travel can have far-reaching consequences, and before he knows it, Denny finds himself racing against time (and other time-travelers) to fix everything. But what does fixing everything actually mean?
I love a good time-travel book, so when Audible offered this one up to me for review, I eagerly agreed. This is an action-packed book but with far less time-travel than it originally appears and much more parallel universes.
The basic premise of the book is that this is the year 2015 in a wold where the American Revolution never occurred. Without the American Revolution, the British Empire ended up taking over most of the world (except East Asia). Everyone is sorted into extremely strict castes, and family history is everything. These people haven’t made it to the moon yet, but they have managed to discover time-travel. And they use this discovery solely to send people called “rewinders” back in time to verify people’s ancestry to solidify their ranking in this world. Now, this was my first major problem with the book, and it’s a plot point I just never was able to let go of. This society acknowledges the risk of the butterfly effect and yet they brazenly send people willy-nilly through time risking everything for what? Geneaology. And this has been going on for decades with no ill effects. Perhaps other readers can get past the idea that a federally (er, royally) backed agency would do this, but I simply could not.
Naturally, when our brave hero goes back in time, he is the first to woops his way into a butterfly effect. He knows he’s probably done it (he causes someone to leave a location 12 seconds late), but he still pops back up into the present to check on things. Once there, it takes him days to figure out that he’s changed history. Daaaaays. It should really not take him this long to figure this thing out. Denny causes a change. Denny pops up to the present. Denny has troubling connecting to his companion (a person in the present who grounds the person time-traveling), so he gets sick for a few days. Denny then wanders through our universe’s New York City and can’t figure out what’s going on. It takes traveling to California’s New Cardiff (in our world, Los Angeles) and seeing that his family home is gone to figure out what’s happened. Really? A person who has been trained in time-travel takes this long to figure out this very basic time-travel problem? It’s hard to believe, especially after we’ve been told repeatedly how smart Denny is, that he could be that stupid.
Denny then starts living in Los Angeles to investigate this parallel universe. He naturally meets a girl and falls for her. He then has trouble deciding whether to put everything back or not. And of course there are other rewinders out there he must contend with.
The basic plot idea is interesting. What would have happened if there had been no American Revolution and how would a person from that society react if they discovered a different option for their lives? But how the author gets there isn’t fully thought-out or fleshed-out enough. There are too many logical fallacies, such as the ones I’ve laid out above. That said, it was a fun read with a different plot than what has been coming from a lot of YA recently. I was glad to see a scifi that contains some history for YA readers. I also appreciated how many women characters are present in the book, including Denny’s trainer and his nemesis. Similarly, Denny’s world is extremely lacking in diversity due to the success of the British empire and its traditionalism. When he travels to our world, he immediately encounters greater diversity, both of race and of sexuality, and he seems to appreciate that, which is a nice touch.
The narrator does a good job both keeping a good pace and setting the tone for the book. While I understand why the narrator uses a British accent for the British characters from the 1700s, the history geek in me was frustrated, since the stereotypical modern “British accent” didn’t exist back then. (I knew this from my History BA, but here’s an article that explains what I’m talking about).
Overall, this book has an interesting premise and fast-moving plot. It has some romance, but is thankfully free of any love triangles. Time-travel fans may be frustrated by how easily characters brush off the real presence of time-travel issues. The science of time-travel is simply not explored enough, nor is history. However, YA readers looking for a quick read and something different in the genre will most likely enjoy it.
3 out of 5 stars
Source: Free download from Audible in exchange for my honest review
Penny Farthing, member of the wealthy elite, is full of tons of energy she mostly uses to ride her motorized high wheel bicycle and collect robotic butterflies. Unfortunately, her clockwork heart doesn’t always entirely keep up with her. Plus she has to wind it. Much more troubling to her, though, is the fact that the creator of her clockwork heart, Calvin Warwick, is now on trial for murdering dozens of people he abducted from the street to practice on before giving her her new heart. When there is an explosion at her family’s factory and Warwick escapes prison immediately after being found guilty of murder (oh, and her parents disappear), Penny and her twin brother and two of their closest friends embark on a journey of intrigue to bring her parents home and Warwick to justice.
I rarely am actually interested in anything in the Kindle First email (a once-monthly email that informs Kindle owners as to four books they can access ahead of publication for free). I am also not often into most steampunk books. It’s an idea I love, but I often find isn’t executed as well as it should be. When this one popped up, though, I was intrigued for its transhumanist explorations. The book definitely explores the concept of transhumanism via the steampunk idea of augmentation, but it mostly is a story about a young girl’s first love and a bit of a mystery/thriller search for a murderer.
The basic premise that a teenager finds out that the medical device that saved her life was the result of the brutal torture and murder of dozens of people is awesome. This is a more extreme version of the types of realizations that young adults often have. (For instance, I will never forget the first time I realized that sometimes scientists must experiment on innocent animals in the pursuit of cures and the ethical quandary that resulted for me). It works quite well because it is set in an alternate universe. This allows the reader to have some distance to view the ethical issue through but the alternate universe is still similar enough to our own that it is relatable. Penny is always firmly against any unwilling human experimentation (as she should be) but she is left wondering how much responsibility and guilt she should feel for the tortures and murders when she herself was indirectly responsible. She is so grateful to be not only alive but able to function better than she could before. But she is also traumatized at the thought of how she got there. This is the book’s real strength, and I am glad it is out there for the YA audience to read. That said, there are other elements of the book that just don’t quite work for me.
First, the level of steampunk is sometimes a bit ridiculous and isn’t explained well enough. For instance, the world seems to have only robotic butterflies and horses. Why is that? For that matter, it’s deeply confusing to me why this culture would develop a robotic horse and carriage, particularly when they also have motorized bicycles (I won’t call them motorcycles, because they definitely are not nearly so eloquent nor sexy as motorcycles). It’s not a far leap to car from there. The reasons behind the steampunk features are simply never explored. They just are. This may be fine to some readers, but I found it dissatisfying. I particularly really needed to know why the animals are robots.
Second, the society Penny lives in is clearly meant to be a parallel to the British Empire in its heyday. It is highly stratified, classist, regal, and feels oppressive (except for Penny and her family of course *eye-roll*). I have no problem with a book containing this type of society but it is not only never questioned it seems to be held up as an excellent way of living. It’s great that the military just jumps right on in and solves everyone’s problems (including abducting civilians up to their sky fort). It’s oh so wonderful that Penny’s family has all this wealth. It’s tragic for Penny’s family that they lose some product in the factory explosion but the workers and their injuries and lives are barely touched upon. It ends up feeling like whenever any of the elite people in the book (and most of the main and secondary characters are elite, with the exception of one young girl who is saved from her poor destitute life by the military) discusses anything bad about being the lower class, they do so in a “See, I’m a good person because I care about them” tone but not out of any sincerity. None of them have any desire to actually change or fix anything. Indeed, one of the main characters excitedly jumps right in when they are asked to become an honorary member of the military. The book has the tone that the only thing wrong with this alternate universe is the fact that Warwick is a very bad man who experiments on people he snatched from the street. Everything else is fine! When it clearly is not.
Finally, I just don’t particularly care for the main character, Penny Farthing. First there’s her name, which is exactly the same as the name of the style of bicycle she rides (only motorized) (info on the penny farthing). That’s just a bit too cutesy for me. Second, she is a person who is oblivious to her privilege of wealth and access to medical care, even when it is smacking her in the face. She never learns, changes, or grows (beyond falling in love). She briefly realizes “hey, maybe things have been rough on my twin brother too,” but she glosses over that quite quickly. She also eats incessantly in a way that reminds me very much of The Gilmore Girls (here is a great article that talks about why this trope is annoying as hell). Basically, she eats whatever she wants, whenever she wants, primarily junk food, and everyone finds it “oh so adorable” that she is constantly hungry. Oh that Penny Farthing! And she does this all while staying the classic western media ideal of what is attractive! Without working out! So basically she never does that annoying thing women can sometimes do which is to eat a salad and never eat a burger because she’s watching her figure (which men find annoying) but she also is definitely not fat (which men also find annoying). She is the best of both worlds. In Penny’s case, this mystery is explained as the fact that she needs to eat to keep her clockwork heart going. The “science” of that drives me absolutely batty, by the way. My best guess is that the author was possibly going for the idea of how some people, such as people with diabetes, need to eat at evenly spaced times to keep their blood sugar even. However, no one would tell a person with diabetes to eat primarily sugary baked goods at those intervals, which is what Penny mostly eats. Also, diabetes does not equal heart disease so…..the “science” of this makes very little sense. It reads as an excuse to use the Gilmore Girls junk food trope. Finally, it really bothers me that she collects the robotic butterflies. Yes, I know people do this in the real world with real butterflies, but it has always struck me as cruel, and I think it says a lot about her character that she seems so cool with trapping what in her world are perceived of as essentially living creatures for her own amusement and collection.
All of that said, the plot and mystery of Warwick, his escape, and finding Penny’s parents is fast-paced and unpredictable without ever verging into the land of plots that make no sense. It’s an interesting world with an engaging plot built around a cool premise. Where it is weak is primarily in the elements that were either not sufficiently well thought-out, explored, or explained, such as the robotic animals, the functioning of Penny’s heart, etc…
Overall, this has an interesting premise and an engaging plot. It unfortunately doesn’t explore the workings of the society or the steampunk it has created enough, and the main character can be a bit annoying and hard to root for at times. However, those who love steampunk with a dash of mystery and romance will likely enjoy adding it to their repertoire, provided they are ok with the issues outlined above.
3 out of 5 stars
Source: Amazon Kindle First (Free copy of the book provided by Amazon to those with kindles who request it. Requesters are under no obligation to provide a review).
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