Despite (or because of?) my recent fantasy kick I decided to try something that’s more scientific in theme. The Resurrectionist has a special blend of science fiction, fantasy, and horror elements in a fictional biography of a Dr. Spencer Black in late nineteenth-century Philadelphia. A promising young doctor studying to understand and correct birth defects, he comes to the conclusion that these defects are the result of the human body’s attempt to regrow the appendages and organs of our ancestors – namely, legendary beasts such as centaurs and harpies.
So consumed is he with this hypothesis that Dr. Black loses everything in his experiments – his professional reputation became ruined, he became estranged from much of his family, and his wealth and stability were traded in for a life working with a traveling carnival. Nobody took his theories or findings seriously, and this remained so long after his disappearance.
A warning: This is a dark book. At its core, it revolves around a mad scientist and his experiments. Many of those experiments were alive. Some of them remained alive. If you are exceptionally squeamish, this book is probably not for you.
This book was a fast read. I’m not one to go through books quickly, but I finished this in a matter of hours. The story itself is short, making up less than half of the actual book. The remaining pages are filled with Dr. Black’s published work: a Gray’s Anatomy-type of text depicting sketches of various mythological creatures to highlight their similarities to modern humans. It made for an interesting story, and the sketches were full of detail and went a long way in terms of immersion. My main complaint was that the book was too short, and as a result felt incomplete.
Despite this being a biography, apparently written long after the fact, the ultimate fates of many main characters are left unexplained. Dr. Black disappears, never to be seen or heard from again. His wife and brother have similar fates – the former remained with Dr. Black and it is made clear that she is the result of one of his more successful experiments, the latter disappeared in search of Spencer. Dr. Black’s son is mentioned to be following his father’s footsteps, but almost never appears in a scene and his story remains a mystery. Too many characters are left up in the air
Leaving some mystery at the end isn’t inherently bad. It leaves readers with plenty of room to speculate about what really happened, and what can happen next. There are fandoms that thrive off of open-ended storylines. Perhaps this was the intended result for The Resurrectionist, or perhaps Hudspeth is saving some story for a sequel. Personally I would prefer a sequel, but his website makes no mention of one at the time of this writing.
Despite this, it’s the mark of a good story that I didn’t want it to end so quickly. It could have used just one more chapter to tie up some of the loose ends. It’s not just the weird science aspects that drew me in, but a faint spiritual undertone that persists in Dr. Black’s beliefs and experiments. This story blended some realistic traits in the tortured fates of many of Dr. Black’s patients with the fantastic scale of what he was trying to accomplish – not to mention that not all of his experiments were failures.
I enjoyed this story. My only wish was that it was a touch more finished.