Saturday, May 18, 2013

Highlighting: The Resurrectionist: The Lost Work of Doctor Spencer Black by E.B. Hudspeth


Philadelphia. The late 1870s. A city of cobblestone sidewalks and horse-drawn carriages. Home to the famous anatomist and surgeon Dr. Spencer Black. The son of a “resurrectionist” (aka grave robber), Dr. Black studied 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 his humble beginnings to 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 black-and-white anatomical illustrations. You need only look at these images to realize they are the work of a madman. The Resurrectionist tells his story.

E. B. HUDSPETH is an artist and author living in New Jersey. This is his first book.
resurrectionist n (14c) 1. an exhumer and stealer of corpses; a resurrection man 2. one who revives or brings to light again [f. RESURRECTION sb. + -IST. Hence F. resurrectionniste.]
The Resurrectionist is such a gorgeous book! When I first received the print copy all I wanted to do was pet it. It is the size of a coffee table book, and an excellent conversation piece as I quickly found out. The fantastic illustrations rendered by the author E.B. Hudspeth, The Codex Extinct Animalia, that make up the second section of this book steal the show. Of course, there is a story to go along with all those gorgeous illustrations and the aesthetically pleasing package.

Set primarily in Philadelphia in the late 1800's, the first section of the story is the fictional biography of Dr. Spencer Black. Although it is written in a biographical style narrative with journal entries by Dr. Spencer Black and occasional entries by his brother Bernard, the story soon takes a twist into dark fantasy as Spencer comes to believe that mythological creatures are the true ancestors of humans. At age twenty-one, Black is known around the world as a medical prodigy, but as his research grows into an obsession that takes him away from his brilliant works as a surgeon working with operable birth defects and into an entirely different direction, his credibility with the medical community is irrevocably damaged and his mental health rapidly deteriorates.

This section of the book is rather short, at times providing gruesome details of Black's experiments, while at others it leaves blank or unknown details up to the reader's imagination. Black's experiments and descent into obsessive darkness fascinated me to no end and left me disturbed. That is until I looked at those gorgeous illustrations again.

The Codex Extinct Animalia, or second section of the book, is dedicated to those fantastic illustrations I mention above. I wish I could show you instead of telling you about it. There is a page describing each mythological creature, another page with Dr. Black's notes about the creature, and a page dedicated to different illustration plates enumerating bones, muscles, internal organs, and the final sample of said creature. My favorites are the amazing illustrations of the Harpy Erinyes. But as beautiful as the illustrations are, they become deeply disturbing when placed in context with the story or Black's obsession. It is through these that the reader comes to realize the depth of the doctor's madness and realizes just how far he goes with his experimentation. A rather macabre thought...

Now, take the disturbing dark fantasy narrated in biographical style and put it together with illustrations that take the story up a notch into the macabre and you have a winning combination. For readers like me who love a taste of the unique and different, the aesthetically beautiful journey into the dark mind of a madman in The Resurrectionist will most certainly do.

Book Dimensions: 7½ x 10½
Also available as an ebook
Publisher: Quirk Books
Release Date: May 21, 2013

Visit the author's website or for more information go here.

4 comments:

  1. Sounds like a very unique book but that cover is SOOOOO creepy.
    I'm glad the book was good though, horror is such a hard genre in which to find good stuff.

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    1. Alex, this book is spectacularly unique! I think of this story as dark fantasy, or speculative fiction with a edge of horror. The cover is fantastic... you should see the book. ;P

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  2. The illustrations are so beautiful in this!!! I do wish the story part at the beginning at been a bit longer though. I got to the end of that section, and I was like "what? it ends here???"

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    1. I agree. The first section of the book is definitely short and the illustrations absolutely steal the show. But I think in a way they also complete and continue the story by providing the details that we don't get within the written story -- and by making us think about how successful Black was in his experiments -- how far did he go to hmm... study those creatures and come up with those illustrations?

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