Premise: Dr. Spencer Black spent his childhood in the 1870s robbing graves with his father and brother. From there he attended the Academy of Medicine in Philadelphia and became an esteemed young surgeon until his strange and disturbing theories proved too strange for most scientists to accept.
Dr. Black finds ways to fund his research, from joining traveling carnivals to doing private showings of his horrifying taxidermy specimens. When his work becomes too much for his family to bear, Dr. Black becomes estranged from his brother. The specimens that he gathers from all around the world lead Dr. Black to some strange beliefs that ancient and mythical creatures may very well have existed, and his obsession is to make them live again. He is labeled a madman by most people and a miracle worker by others.
The first part of The Resurrectionist is a biography of Dr. Spencer Black with correspondences between Dr. Black and his family and colleagues included. The second part is The Codex Extinct Animalia, a collection of labeled anatomical drawings of mythical creatures with explanations of their existence.
Themes: Dr. Black’s descent into madness shows the reader the extent to which obsession can harm someone and those around them. Not only are his relationships with his colleagues and family tarnished, but some are also physically affected, some under unexplained circumstances.
There is a vein of science versus religion, science versus nature, or something of the sort in the biography. As Dr. Black delves deeper into his work, his claims against the existence of God become more vocal. His ability to create new creatures, and life itself, grow more insistent, even as other scientists decry his work.
Pros: The drawings in The Resurrectionist are splendid: the work of an artist who has obviously had practice drawing people and animals. The idea encompassed in The Resurrectionist is unique. The only thing I can think to compare the plot to is Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. Hudspeth does a good job capturing the obsession of Dr. Black in his work, especially how it negatively harms his relationships.
Cons: Aside from the drawings, there just isn’t much depth to the story in The Resurrectionist. The idea is there, but it is like a short story attached to a book of drawings. As Dr. Black pushed those around him away, I found myself siding with everyone else instead of him. Some of the anatomical claims about certain bones fitting together and evolutionary anomalies causing ancient genes to reemerge in certain cases just didn’t make sense, as splicing animal parts together through taxidermy doesn’t support claims that they once existed that way. It also wasn’t clear which creatures claimed to have existed because of natural specimens or which were created by Black.
Recommendations: The Resurrectionist is the kind of book you can pick up in the store, flip through the pages, and know if it is something you would be interested in. The Codex of drawings in the back might be enough for some people to pick it up, but the biography was just too short for my taste. The weaknesses in the text wouldn’t be enough for me to purchase a copy myself. I only wish the writing had been more fleshed out because I think E. B. Hudspeth had a good idea and the potential to execute it, but didn’t take the time to do so. More story to back up the drawings would have made The Resurrectionist much better.
E.B. Hudspeth’s website
The Resurrectionist: The Lost Work of Dr. Spencer Black
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I received a copy from the publisher to write this honest review.