The Resurrectionist is two books in one. The first half is a series of anecdotes, sketches, and notes about the fictional Dr. Spencer Black’s slow descent into madness. The world’s first plastic surgeon, he excelled at helping the deformed, but slowly came to see deformities and mutations as the human form’s attempt to return to its mythic roots. Eventually, Black becomes the Dr. Frankenstein of his age, shifting from healing to creating new forms from corpses, one harpy and mermaid at a time. By the time Black is debuting his monstrosities at a carnival, we know he’s gone off the deep end.
Will Black discover the secret to reanimation? It’d be a boring story if he didn’t.
The second half of the book is a series of anatomical studies of mythical beasts. With the exception of the siren/harpy, it’s only skin deep: muscle and bones are given scientific names, peeled back layer by layer. It’s worth mentioning that none of these creatures are supposed to be the actual beast, but rather Black’s reproduction. Which means that in essence we’re looking at a copy of a copy.
The creatures are all meticulously detailed, although it’s peculiar there’s an Eastern dragon and not a Western version. All of the typical permutations of the human form are present: minotaurs, centaurs, satyrs, mermaids…but there are others too, like the chimera and the Cerberus. Curiously, no attempt is made to harmonize the beasts’ forms. The chimera is literally a goat, a lion, and a snake grafted together¸ with their three spines fused into one.
The publisher invites the curious to explore more on its web site, but there’s nothing there – the interior page views don’t work, robbing readers of the opportunity to zoom in on certain details.
It’s a bit like seeing a puppeteer’s hand beneath a puppet – once you see it, you can help but start asking questions. Given that we’re getting a detailed look under these mythical creatures’ hoods, so to speak¸ the book seems to invite these questions but never answers them. Black’s notes make vague allusions to “air sacks” that allow the winged beasts to fly, but never explains how they work. And the aforementioned fused bones seem like lazy design. Shouldn’t the sphinx, legendary of eating humans, have a different set of teeth? How does the cold-blooded nature of a snake integrate with a chimera’s presumably warm-blooded two-thirds? How in the world does a satyr stand upright on tiny little goat feet? “The Resurrectionist” has no answers.
It simply presents, with the intent of unnerving the reader, an intimate look at the insides of creatures we would normally gawk at from afar. The book might have application in role-playing games where necromancy is prominent. But like Black’s traveling sideshow, it’s a curiosity that only momentarily distracts us from the next act.
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