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.
“Disturbingly lovely…The Resurrectionist is a cabinet of curiosities, stitching history and mythology and sideshow into an altogether different creature. Deliciously macabre and beautifully grotesque.”
– Erin Morgenstern, author of The Night Circus
The Resurrectionist is a fascinating story in the vein of H.G. Wells’ classic The Island of Dr. Moreau (which I really need to read). It is filled with human experimentation, a twisted doctor and incredibly detailed illustrations.
The Resurrectionist is the study of a gradual descent into madness, of a man so assured of the validity of his ideas that he will go to any lengths to prove himself to the world. His hypothesis, while undeniably mad, is also strangely appealing and interesting.
From the first page, the novel presents itself as something unusual and inspiring of morbid curiosity. Dr. Spencer Black’s history is recounted in the style of a non-fiction biography, rather than framed as a narrative. When presented with a fictional story a part of your brain always knows that what your reading is pure fantasy and you interact with the story differently than when you know its real. By presenting the story as a work of non-fiction, you are really forced to confront the ideas generated by the novel and the plausibility of the story. However, a large portion of the text is composed of journal entries and letters, preventing the narrative from becoming too dry.
The second half of the book is filled with beautiful anatomy drawings of Dr. Spencer Black’s creations. The level of detail is astounding and I’d have loved some copies to frame on my wall. It’s definitely worth picking up the book just to look at the illustrations even if the story doesn’t interest you, though they certainly compliment each other extremely well.
Recommended to fans of The Monstrumologist quartet by Rick Yancey, and the Madman’s Daughter trilogy by Megan Shepherd. Those fascinated by the macabre and lovers of classical horror and mythology will also enjoy reading this.