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Book Review: The Isle of Blood by Rick Yancey (Audiobook narrated by Steven Boyer) (Series, #3)

April 29, 2013 2 comments

Tree and birds silhouetted against a moon and a green background.Summary:
Will Henry states that this is a story that Dr. Warthrop did not want told…and proceeds to tell it anyway.  When a British man shows up with a package being delivered under duress, Dr. Warthrop is ecstatic to realize it is the nest of the Magnificum–the holy grail of monstrumology.  Dr. Warthrop decides to leave Will Henry in New York while he pursues this beast.  But when his monstrumologist companion returns claiming that Warthrop is dead, Will Henry and two fellow monstrumologists travel to Europe to track him–or his body–down.

Review:
Not as engaging or thought-provoking as the first two books in the series, I can only hope that this third entry is suffering from the common penultimate book malady where the book which must set everything up for the finale of the series can sometimes drag.

There are two problems in this entry that make it fail to be as engaging or thrilling as the first two books.  First, Will Henry is left behind in New York for a significant portion of the novel.  We are thus left with a whiny teenager bemoaning Warthrop’s choice to be responsible for once and keep him out of danger.  We also are left with very little action for far too large a portion of the book.  The second issue is perhaps a bit of a spoiler but suffice to say that the monster is disappointing and its disappointment is easily predicted.  If we had a lot of action with a disappointing monster, that’s still engaging.  If we had less excitement with a surprising, phenomenal monster, that’s still thrilling.  The combination of the two, though, prevents this thriller from being as thrilling and engaging as it should be.

Of course there are other elements that still worked, which is why I kept reading it.  Yancey’s writing is, as ever, beautiful to read (or listen to) and contains much depth.

“So many times we express our fear as anger…, and now I think I wasn’t angry at all, but afraid. Terribly, terribly afraid.”

The settings are unique, and the characters are strong and leap off of the pages.  Will Henry becomes more fully fleshed-out in this entry as we start to see his descent into a love affair with monstrumology.  We also get to see Warthrop at what he himself perceives of as his lowest point.  It’s a dark bit of characterization but it works very well for the story Yancey is telling.

Overall, I was a bit disappointed, purely because the first two entries in the series were so phenomenal.  The third book is still a very good book.  Fans might be a bit disappointed, depending on how attached they are to the unique thriller aspect of the series, but the characters and writing still make this well worth the time.  Fans will remain in eager anticipation of the final entry in the series.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Audible

Buy It

Previous Books in Series
The Monstrumologist, review
The Curse of the Wendigo, review

Book Review: The Curse of the Wendigo by Rick Yancey (Audiobook narrated by Steven Boyer) (Series, #2)

April 11, 2013 3 comments

Black silhouette of birds and trees against a moon and a red background with a face just discernible in it.Summary:
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.

Review:
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.

Stunning.

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

Source: Audible

Buy It

Previous Books in Series
The Monstrumologist, review