The Resurrectionist by E.B. Hudspeth

The cover of The Resurrectionist by E.B. Hudspeth. It has a black background and a grayscale drawing of an anatomical drawing of a winged human.

If you like fictional science, Victorian fantasy, great art and a creeping sense of horror, then “The Resurrectionist” by E.B. Hudspeth is the book for you. 

The book comes in two parts. The first is the fictional biography of Dr. Spencer Black that takes your through Black’s early education and career as a surgeon, the development of his strange evolutionary theories, and the experiments he makes later. 

So what is all this fake science? Through his early surgical work, Dr. Black comes to believe that birth defects and other abnormalities are caused by the human body trying to grow limbs that humans once had but no longer have, like wings, or a mermaid’s tail… and ergo mythical creatures were once real and also we should try to bring them back.

Snapchat of text, the highlighted quote reads, "Among the paper's most controversial claims was the idea that many so-called mythological creatures were in fact real species that once walked the earth. Black further argued that remnants of these creatures sometimes manifested themselves in latent trails, that is, genetic mutations."

The caption reads "You'd be surprised how realistic this is in terms of shit people got up to in the 1800s. There was real historical discourse about whether or not the mermaid was a missing evolutionary link."

So armed with the obstinate belief of many a Victorian scientist with bad theories, he sets about trying to prove this in the worst possible way. First he cobbles together fakes a la the Feejee mermaid, but then he decides to take it a step further and experiment on living creatures. He starts with animals… but doesn’t stop there.

Snapchat of text, the quote reads "Unhappy with the success of the anatomy show and grieving the loss of his son, Victor,

The thing I really enjoyed about this first part being presented as a biography are the questions and mysteries that arise, but due to the restraints of the genre and structure of the story, cannot be solved. He transplants wings onto a dog and then a young woman, and we are lead to believe that these wings work, but logically we also know that shouldn’t be possible, so then we wonder, maybe Dr. Black was onto something

Additionally, when dealing with late Victorian evolutionary theory, especially when discussing disability and birth defects, you always, always run the risk of running into eugenics. To my pleasant surprise, Dr. Black is never affiliated with the eugenics movement, in fact, they denounce him and his work.

This is rather a double edge sword of an endorsement, however. Like, yay, he’s not involved with the eugenics movement, but the denouncement also serves as a moment of “the people doing really fucked up shit think the shit you’re doing is worse” and let’s not forget Dr. Black was experimenting on living human beings by the end. 

Which brings me to my next point and major warning; there is a not insignificant amount of medical ableism in this book. Much of it is typical for the time period and field in which Dr. Black worked, but it’s still there and there were a small handful of things that I thought could have been done better from the perspective of the modern biographer of Dr. Black, but they weren’t enough to ruin the book for me. 

Two anatomical drawings a mermaid with each individual part labeled. The first is a skeleton and the skeleton with some minor musculature. Beneath the image is the label "Siren oceanus."

Part two of the book is a “reproduction” of Dr. Black’s seminal work, “The Codex of Extinct Animalia,” where he details his “discoveries” of various mythical creatures, from mermaids to dragons to centaurs. Each section includes beautifully detailed anatomical drawings of each creature, just like what might have been found in a regular anatomical text book of the time, accompanied by blurbs written by Dr. Black and a short explanation by the biographer. 

Ultimately, if you enjoy dark historical fantasy, science fiction and horror, such as Frankenstein, The Terror (tv show), or Dracula you might enjoy The Resurrectionist too. 

You can watch the trailer for the book as well as find links to purchase here.

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Library of Souls by Ransom Riggs

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[Edit: Originally published May 26, 2016]

A thrilling conclusion to a thrilling series. Emma, Jacob and peculiar dog Addison, are the only three peculiars of the original group that haven’t been captured, and now they must free their friends and keep Caul (the mastermind who’s been behind all this from the very start) from completing his abominable plans.

The trio winds up in the worst of worst loops, Devil’s Acre. And must navigate their way through it with the help of Sharon, a tour boat driver. (A delightful play on Charon the guardian of the river Styx). Jacob is finally beginning to realize the extent of his peculiar abilities, which is to control hollowgasts, not just to see them, but even with that their plans hits dead end after dead end. And allies turn out not to be such good allies after all. Victory is only gained at the very last moment.

I should say I’ve had a few issues with the heavily romance driven element of the book from the very beginning, but that’s mostly because I am tired and bitter about heterosexual romances. That being said, it’s very well written and I am very pleased with how it wrapped up. The acknowledgement between Emma and Jacob that their relationship as it was probably wasn’t going to last but friends was a thing they could do. Then at the end of the book they got the chance to be able to take their relationship slower, Jacob was like “hey let’s go that route instead, might be better.” This had me enjoying the relationship by the end of this book more than I had during the previous books.

Something that bothered me, was that we never really got proper closure about what happened to Fiona, the girl who could talk to plants. It’s brought up multiple times that she could have survived her fall off the cliff because she could control plants and could have had the trees catch her, but by the end the subject gets dropped and you never learn if anyone ever went back to look for her to confirm that theory, she’s just assumed dead. If anyone did go back to look for her, Fiona does not appear with the rest of the children when they visit Jacob at his home at the end of the book.

A few warnings. There are a few scenes where peculiars are being experimented on, it’s nothing overly explicit, but they are there. 

The big warning however, comes at the very end of the book. There is a sequence where Jacob’s parents try to have him institutionalized against his will. It doesn’t actually happen, Miss Peregrine and the children show up and put a stop to that, but the whole sequence of Jacob’s parents and Jacob’s therapist trying to get Jacob institutionalized was very, very distressing for me to read.

You can get the book here.

The reviews for Miss Peregrine’s and Hollow City.

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Hollow City by Ransom Riggs

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[Edit: Originally published May 19, 2016]

The Brotherhood of Evil Mutants- I’m sorry, the wights and hollowgasts, formerly peculiars who lost their forms in an experiment to increase their powers and raise them to the level of gods, are after the Peculiar Children and Miss Peregrine who is injured and stuck in her bird form. The trouble that was brewing in book one has now come to a head!

The children, plus one Jacob, must travel through the war torn country side to London to find help for their teacher and guardian Miss Peregrine before it’s too late and she’s stuck as a bird forever. 

This is a typical book two of a trilogy (this isn’t a bad thing, it’s just a way trilogies often get set up, you can see it in “Hunger Games” too). The first book set everything up, we know what we’re dealing with, then in book two everything increases in intensity. If a series is going to have a book about traveling or searching for something, this is going to be that book (see “The Two Towers”).

The children meet more people, some who help and some who hinder. Some who die and some who don’t. Frankly I was surprised with the amount of deaths and who the deaths were. The plot twist was excellent and beautifully placed. There’s a point in the book where things are winding down and it looks like things are going to be sorted out, but then you see how many pages are left and go “That can’t possibly be right, if it’s resolved then what happens in these pages?” That’s the beauty of the plot twist, it ends the second book and prepares you for what’s next.

Update on the favorite character front, still Millard, but I have a growing fondness for Hugh. The poor boy only has one bee left.

Buy the book here.

Related reviews: Miss Peregrine’s and Library of Souls

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Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

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[Edit: Originally published May 16,  2016]

When I started reading this book I described it to a friend as a historical fantasy X-Men AU, and having finished it I still stand by that statement. There was the parallel between Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children and The Xavier Institute for Gifted Youngsters that I saw and there was also the peculiars as sub species of homo sapiens (see mutants as homo superior). However, boiling it down solely to that would not be doing the book justice at all.

This book was fan-fucking-tastic. It had literally been sitting on my bookshelf for two years and I am so mad at myself for not having read it sooner.

It’s the exact sort of eerie that I adore. It’s eerie and mysterious, but it’s not smacking you over the head with grimdark either. It’s exactly as eerie and peculiar as the covers make it seem. The black and white photos that accompany the story are perfectly placed and enhance what your reading ten fold. 

The year is 1940, but no wait, it’s also 2011. September 3rd 1940, it’s a very important date. A date that holds all the answers that our young protagonist Jacob needs after the death of grandfather. “Find the bird. In the loop. On the other side of the old man’s grave. September third, 1940.” His grandfather’s last words lead him on a journey that there’s no turning back from. A group of peculiar children and their teacher, who have secrets and not-so-secrets, and there’s trouble brewing abroad that is more that just the troubles of World War 2.

I’m a huge sucker for WW2 era books, and this is the perfect blend of historical and fantasy. You get a whole bunch of weird set to a back drop of World War 2. 

Also, like I talked about at the beginning, I get the same draw from the peculiar as I do with mutants. There’s an othering there that I can identify with which allows me to latch onto the characters more tightly than I might in another book. Basically, if you really like the whole mutant metaphor thing of the X-Men, then I would highly, highly, recommend this book.

For the record, my favorite character is Millard the Invisible Boy. 

Book can be found here.

Related reviews: Hollow City and Library of Souls

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