This was a hardcover book that caught my eye in one of my local used bookstores. Its cover depicted a human skeleton with numerical markers with the abnormal addition of bones that would be for wings also on the skeleton. Piqued interest, I read the back of the book and was instantly hooked.
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.
This was right up my alley as someone who enjoys supernatural, mythology, and slightly darker/odd writings. Not only was the story interesting sounding, but a good half or more of the book consists of detailed & realistic drawings of mythological creatures. For an example there is one drawing of a mermaid skeleton, then another of the bones and sinew. There are medical markers and descriptions of the bones and muscles. It’s beautiful and strange all in one since I have never seen a mythological creature drawn in a scientific and anatomical way.
Though the writing portion is shorter then I wished it, it goes over the various points of Dr. Black’s life to what lead to to do what he did. It is almost like finding someones lost journal and reading through their private pages and sketches. I wish for the author to maybe come out with a second book so we can see what the Dr. had been up to since the end of the book and what other sketches he may have come up with. Some of the mystery and lack of information though is part of the appeal of this book.
In the writings you learn of Dr. Black’s beginnings as a regular doctor, who then turned to abnormalities and excelled at it. His fascination though turned obsession and thus sent him into the strange world of traveling show. Recreating or “finding” evidence of mythological and fantastical animals and creatures, he put them on display for all to see. His reputation as a man, and a doctor, were often thrown back and forth between praise and shame. His fame went up and down, and his own family life became troublesome. I don’t want to give too much away since as I stated the writing section is short. Yet you quickly become obsessed yourself in the immersion Dr. Black has with this strange practice, and the strange ending of the story as well.
If you like books that have a bit of a twisted side to them this could be a good book for you. Or anyone who has an appreciation or interest in the detailed drawings of bone structures and mythological creatures. Beautiful and strange, I can’t wait to read it again someday.