Book Review: The Final Descent by Rick Yancey (Series, #4)
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