So not long ago, I wrote about receiving a beautiful book from Quirk Books as a review copy. I got it at the end of the semester (ish), so I wasn’t able to dive in right away, but that book taunted me from my desk. Even before I delved into the story of Dr. Spencer Black, I was enchanted by the elaborate anatomical drawings of mythological creatures like the harpy (as featured on the front cover) to the chimaera. I ended up working through this book a little backwards, but I did read it through in the proper order as well. And in keeping with how I read it, let’s take a step back and look it over again.
Imagine, if you will, a brilliant young scientist. You can consider him something like a Dr. Frankenstein, but focused on life, on understanding and unraveling the mysteries of what we consider abnormalities. Imagine, as Dr. Spencer Black does, that mutations like conjoined twins or polydactyly are not accidents. Imagine these are the “body attempting to grow what it once had thousands of years ago…”
And imagine this brilliant young doctor turning his attention from the practice of medicine helping the afflicted to trying to engineer proof that the pegasus, centaur and minotaur actually existed.
Though a brief tale of his life, the story of Dr. Spencer Black is disarming in its initial placidity and simplicity, and the twist ricochets the reader through the book. Anecdotes from his journals, letters to his brother propel the story along with personal insights and tales like Darwin’s Dog give shudders that make the illustrations in the second half of the book more macabre than they initially seem. And then there’s the cautionary example of taking a dream and passion and chasing it to its delusional, dangerous outcome…
This is one of those books that is fertile ground for imagination, especially lovers of fantasy and even anatomy. It has the gritty, noir feel of the classic Shelley story, but with a more modern feel, and yet it is a unique piece in its own right. This is one book that can really only be experienced as a physical book, especially in the hardcover format. As much as I love my e-reader, I can’t imagine it translating well, even on an iOS/Kindle Fire platform. This one is getting a spot on the shelf with my writing and reference books. One never knows when one may need to know the muscular and skeletal structure of a cerberus, after all…
Medium: Hardcover from Quirk Books (review copy provided)
Other: Available as hardcover and e-book from Amazon.com
Overall rating: 4 stars
Potential re-read: Yes. This is definite imagination fodder, both for the extensive and detailed imaginings of mythological creatures, but also because Black’s story is dark, twisted and riveting.
Dead-tree worthy?: Absolutely. This is a book that can only really be appreciated as a hardcover. It may translate to a full-color e-reader, but there’s something about having this book in hand that makes it feel like a real relic of another time.