The Isle of Blood is about redemption. It is about thirteen year-old Will Henry, an orphan who serves as the assistant to monstrumologist Dr. Pellinore Warthrop, a domineering, ambitious, arrogant, but devoted surrogate father. In the two previous books, Will lost much of his innocence; it’s hard to stay pure while engaging in monstrumology, the study and occasional eradication of monsters. Will and Dr. Pellinore Warthrop’s struggles are soaked in blood, gore, and disemboweled remains. This series has never been for the weak-stomached and—for the most part—The Isle of Blood is the same. It is the tamest yet, but that means nothing. Don’t read this book at the dinner table.
Gore quotient aside, the suspense is off the charts. Yancey begins with several scenes of insurmountable tension and, with expert pace, continues to provide nail-biting moments throughout. By the third go round, Yancey has long since hit his stride in tone and structure, but the series is somehow more propulsive than ever before. The characters’ motivations are used to create every conflict. The prose is beautiful to read; it’s poetic, precise, and atmospheric. The gothic tone is run through with black comedy. At one point, Will and the doctor slowly draw closer to the burning body of a dismembered individual for warmth. It’s sick, sure, but also cause for a hesitant chuckle. In this hefty book, there is always something happening on an emotional level, even when it’s a joke.
The globetrotting plot follows Warthrop’s ambitious endeavor to capture the magnificum. This monster is so horrible that it’s spit turns you into a zombie-like creature if it even touches your skin. It sounds funny on paper, but is used to terrifying effect. There are several other myths about the creature, including that it makes it rain blood, hence the title. Yet, the magnificum isn’t present for most of the book. The real monster is the ‘unwinding thing’ inside of Will. To Warthrop’s dismay, Will is slowly becoming desensitized to death as a result of his psychological traumas. Will is given the chance to either leave Warthrop and lead a normal life, or join Warthrop on his destructive quest, to become inhuman for the sake of all humanity.
In its course, The Isle of Blood bounces from America to Europe, to North Africa, Arabia, and beyond with room for cameos by real-life individuals (Sherlock Holmes creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and French poet Arthur Rimbaud, to name a few). These cameos and expert description of the times help enhance the unsung character of the novel: the setting. Yancey uses the clash between modernization and tradition in the rapidly changing late 19th century as a parallel between Warthrop’s battle of science and faith.
Before approaching The Isle of Blood, I suggest you read the two prequels in the trilogy, The Monstrumologist and The Curse of the Wendigo, to fully understand the arc of the complicated relationship between Warthrop and Will. Yes, it’s gory—if you prefer witty teen romance novels, stay away; this series is not for you. But if you can handle a few guts, I think you’ll fall in love, just like I did.
Bottom line: This thrilling finale to an acclaimed series raises the standard for what defines ‘Young Adult Novels.’ I challenge any ‘Adult’ author (other than Stephen King) to write a novel—nay, piece of literature—this good.
Evan is a learning teenage writer whose ambition is to become a film director someday, but not until he’s published a few books first. In the meantime, he spends his time playing drums in his jazz band 3 AM Groove, writing for the school paper, building sets on stage crew, and trying to perfect his 100 greatest movies of all time list. He does not like long walks on the beach.