Book Review: The Curse of the Wendigo by Rick Yancey (Audiobook narrated by Steven Boyer) (Series, #2)
Will Henry, 12 year old orphan and assistant to renowned Monstrumologist, Pellinore Warthrop, is shocked to find a refined woman on Warthrop’s doorstep. She is the wife of Warthrop’s best friend who has now gone missing in rural Canada while looking for the elusive wendigo (aka werewolf). Warthrop insists that there is no such thing as a wendigo, but he agrees to go looking for his missing friend anyway, even if he believes his mission was ridiculous and an affront to monstrumology’s reputation.
I can’t believe it took me this long to get to the sequel of one of my rare 5 star reads, The Monstrumologist. I gave my dad a copy of The Monstrumologist for his birthday, and his enthusiasm for the series brought my own back to me, so I joined in with him to read through it. I had a bunch of credits stacked up on Audible, so I went with the audiobook versions. My speedy father reading in print quickly outpaced me, but that’s ok. I’m really enjoying the audiobooks, although I’m sure I will be reading the final book in the series in the fall when it comes out on my kindle. Can’t wait around for the audiobook! All of which is to say, my enthusiasm for the series remains high, if not steady, and the audiobooks are just as enjoyable as the print.
Yancey does something brave for a second book in the series. Instead of following the formula that worked so well in the first book and basically doing a monster-of-the-week-in-our-town method like Buffy and so many other urban fantasies, he changes things up. There is a monster, yes, but it is entirely different from the first one. This is a monster that might not even exist, unlike the anthropophagi in the first book who are almost immediately clearly real. Additionally, Warthrop and Will must travel away from New England to go looking for the trouble. It does not come to them. Another good plot twist is that the story does not entirely take place in Canada. It moves to New York City. Thus we get both the dangers of the wilderness and the dangers of the city in one book. These plot choices mean that what makes this series a series is the characters, not the fantastical nature of their world. By the end of the book I was thinking of the series in terms of the relationship between Will and Warthrop, not in the context of what nasty beast we might meet next. It thus does what great genre fiction should do. It looks at a real life issue and dresses it up with some genre fun. And the issues addressed here are big ones. What is love and what should we be willing to sacrifice for it? Is it more loving to stay with someone at all costs or to let them go to protect them? At what point do you give up on someone?
The horror certainly felt more grotesque this time around, although it’s possible I just wasn’t remembering the anthropophagi that well. This is a bloody book full of horrible things. Precisely what I expect out of my genre. There’s not much more to say about the horror than keep it up, Yancey. Also that this might not be for you if blood and guts and profanity are not your thing. But they *are* mine and, oh, how well they are done here.
Just as with the first book, the language Yancey uses is beautiful. It’s rich, eloquent, visual, and decadent. It’s a word-lover’s book. An example:
But love has more than one face. And the yellow eye is not the only eye. There can be no desolation without abundance. And the voice of the beast is not the only voice that rides upon the high wind….It is always there. Like the hunger that can’t be satisfied, though the tiniest sip is more satisfying than the most sumptuous of feasts.
The characterization here remains strong for Will and grows much stronger for Warthrop. Will grows and changes as a 12 year old in this time period in his particular situation would be expected to. With Warthrop, though, we get a much clearer backstory and motivations for his actions. In the first book we came to know Will. In this one we come to know Warthrop, although Will is not left without any development. It’s a good balance. I also enjoyed the addition of two female characters, who I thought were well-written, particularly Lily, the budding young feminist determined to be the world’s first female monstrumologist. She is truly three-dimensional in spite of her rather limited screen-time compared to Will.
The pacing doesn’t build steadily from beginning to end. It rather builds to a first climax, comes back down and builds again to a second climax. This makes sense, particularly in a werewolf book, but I must admit it felt a bit odd in the moment. It almost felt like reading two books in one until it all came together in the end. In fact, this is one of those books that gets better the more you look back on the story as a whole. Be prepared to enjoy it more in retrospect that in the first reading.
The audiobook narrator, Boyer, has a tough book to work with. There are a wide range of characters of multiple nationalities to act out (Canadian, German, French, New York, Massachusetts, etc…). Additionally, at least three different languages are spoken (English, French, and German). I’m not fluent in anything but English, but I did take German in university, and I can say that his German accent is at least passable. He also does an excellent job creating a unique voice for each character. I only rarely got lost, and that was generally due to rapid-fire conversation where each character only had a word or two. I must say, though, that he does mispronounce a few words, which detracts from Yancey’s gorgeous writing. I blame the audiobook director for this, though. S/he should have realized and corrected this. Overall, though, the mispronounced words are only in a couple of locations and do not deeply affect the reading of the book.
Overall this is an excellent follow-up to a remarkable first book in the series. It brings to the table that which made the first so powerful: YA horror with rich language set in a historic time period. But it also changes things up enough to avoid falling into the monster-of-the-week trap. The entries in the series are part of a larger story, and that can be seen. Fans of the first book should pick up the second book asap.
5 out of 5 stars