Rick Yancey’s The Curse of the Wendigo is an amusing and well-written sequel to his award winning young adult horror novel The Monstrumologist. Set at the close of the 19th century, Dr. Pellinore Warthrop’s latest adventure takes him deep into the Canadian wilderness as he and his assistant Will Henry attempt to disprove the existence of the wendigo in the face of a series of seemingly monstrous murders.
Though commonly considered a “monstrumologist,” Dr. Pellinore Warthrop considers himself a student of aberrant biology. As such, he stridently dismisses the wendigo, a creature that “starves even as it gorges itself on human flesh,” as fanciful superstition. The doctor explains that the wendigo is a myth that should be used to study how cultures understand and cope with famine. All this “scientific” consideration of mythical creatures stands to diminish the reputation of the still emerging field of “aberrant biology.”
Unfortunately, many other monstrumologists disagree, including Warthrop’s former mentor Abraham von Helrung. Now it seems that Warthrop’s friend and colleague John Chanler has died in pursuit of the wendigo. A visit from Chanler’s anxious wife — who is also Warthrop’s former lover — convinces Warthrop to leave New England for Rat Passage, a fort on the border of Ontario. Alongside a Northwest Mounted Policeman and twelve year-old Will Henry, Warthrop ventures into the wilderness in search of his old friend John Chanler and a rational explanation that will put an end to the myth of the wendigo.
Some readers may find the second third of the story a little flat. Yancey has unabashedly modeled his plot on Bram Stoker’s Dracula (Yancey takes the time in his afterward to speculate that Stoker may have been an acquaintance of Warthrop and Von Helrung), and as with the famous vampire novel, the most exciting part of The Curse of the Wendigo is the exploration of the monster’s home. However, we must return to the city before we can put our monster to rest.
Perhaps this return to the city is necessary. There, we can wipe away the blood and gore and ask ourselves whether we need to invent monsters to explain all of the horrible things that happen in our world. Does the wendigo exist or is all of this death merely a reflection of the darker side of human nature?
Regardless of Yancey’s answer, The Curse of the Wendigo is a surprisingly clever young adult novel. If we’re lucky, we’ll see a series of stories in the tradition of Sherlock Holmes about Dr. Pellinore Warthrop, the monstrumologist who attempts to disprove the existence of monsters. With this series, Yancey has become one of young adult literature’s finest craftsmen and it should come as no surprise that he received the Michael L. Printz Honor for the first installment in this series. Yancey is a fine writer, and he shares Lemony Snicket’s gift for allusions.
One part The Hound of the Baskervilles, one part Dracula, Yancey’s latest novel is a joy to read. Yancey’s characters are wonderfully weird, and it is a great deal of fun to follow Dr. Pellinore Warthrop and his assistant Will Henry as they attempt to deconstruct The Curse of the Wendigo.
The Monstronumologist — (2009-2013) Young adult. Publisher: These are the secrets I have kept. This is the trust I never betrayed. But he is dead now and has been for more than forty years, the one who gave me his trust, the one for whom I kept these secrets. The one who saved me… and the one who cursed me. So begins the journal of Will Henry, orphaned assistant to Dr. Pellinore War throp, a man with a most unusual specialty: monstrumology, the study of monsters. In his time with the doctor, Will has met many a mysterious late-night visitor, and seen things he never imagined were real. But when a grave robber comes calling in the middle of the night with a grueso me find, he brings with him their most deadly case yet. Critically acclaimed author Rick Yancey has written a gothic tour de force that explores the darkest heart of man and monster and asks the question: When does a man become the very thing he hunts?