I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. Thank you!! This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.The Resurrectionist: The Lost Work of Dr. Spencer Black by E.B. Hudspeth
Published by Quirk Books on May 21st, 2013
Genres: Adult, Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Horror
Philadelphia, the late 1870s. A city of gas lamps, cobblestone streets, and horse-drawn carriages—and home to the controversial surgeon Dr. Spencer Black. The son of a grave robber, young Dr. Black studies at Philadelphia’s esteemed Academy of Medicine, where he develops an unconventional hypothesis: What if the world’s most celebrated mythological beasts—mermaids, minotaurs, and satyrs—were in fact the evolutionary ancestors of humankind?
The Resurrectionist offers two extraordinary books in one. The first is a fictional biography of Dr. Spencer Black, from a childhood spent exhuming corpses through his medical training, his travels with carnivals, and the mysterious disappearance at the end of his life. The second book is Black’s magnum opus: The Codex Extinct Animalia, a Gray’s Anatomy for mythological beasts—dragons, centaurs, Pegasus, Cerberus—all rendered in meticulously detailed anatomical illustrations. You need only look at these images to realize they are the work of a madman. The Resurrectionist tells his story.
When I was offered The Resurrectionist for review, I’d never heard of it before. However, the concept sounded endlessly intriguing: an anatomist who theorizes that mythical creatures did in fact exist and that human deformities occur because it’s the species trying to get back to its original form. Sounds super cool, right? Add in a ton of beautiful illustrations, and I was sold. Quirk Books even made this awesome book trailer for it that basically made me reply straight away that YES I wanted this book in my life.
How did it pan out? Well, as you can probably tell by my rating, it wasn’t the best. Nor was it terrible though. I really liked seeing this anatomist’s theories and how they slowly drive him into madness. When he’s faced with disbelieving colleagues, he takes matters into his own hands and does some pretty terrifying experiments, not gonna lie. The illustrations of the mythical creatures were absolutely stunning – and in all ways the book is GORGEOUS design-wise.
I also liked how the story was authentic for its setting – the late 1800s. The prevailing scientific opinions, the appeal of circus shows and the macabre attractions there, and the social conventions felt very authentic – for what in essence is written like a biography. I also loved the writing style of Dr. Spencer Black’s letters. His voice really jumped off the page and I loved seeing his thought process.
However, the downside is that on the whole I didn’t really like the way that the story was told. It’s in effect a book split into two parts: the first 60 pages are written as a fictional biography of Dr. Spencer Black, and the last 130 pages are his book, which contains all of the anatomical drawings. This way of storytelling, though arguably unique and quirky, is very distancing for the reader. We only get glimpses of Dr. Spencer Black’s character through letters that they “found” and facts pieced together for the biography. The ending is also very up in the air. But the story could have been so much more.
I would have loved for the book to be an actual fictional book from Spencer’s perspective. He’d be the best kind of unreliable narrator, since he so fiercely believes in his theories, and if you would be with him in his head when that descent into madness begins, it would be an awesome kind of puzzle to figure out if it’s real or not. Since it’s written as a biography, the narrative is clear about how it’s all in his head, which eliminates any kind of suspense. Yes, the experiments he does are creepy, but they’re written as facts and thus it’s just a bit boring.