Wow! I read and reviewed another novella by Michael Patrick Hicks not so long ago (or at least it remains very fresh in my mind), and I’d read great reviews for this novella as well, so I knew it would be good. In this novella, like in the previous one, the author manages to pack great (and pretty scary) action scenes, to create characters we care for, and to bring depth into the proceedings, with a great deal of sharp social commentary, all in a small number of pages.
This novella also combines elements from a large number of genres, and it does it well. Yes, it is horror (and “cosmic” horror fits it well) but that’s only the beginning. We have historical fiction (the 1788 Doctor’s riot, which took place in New York as a result of the actions of a number of medical students and their professors, known as Ressurrectionists [hence the title), who robbed graves to get bodies for study and experimentation, disproportionately those of African-Americans, was the inspiration for the whole series, as the author explains in the back matter); elements of gothic horror (fans of Frankenstein should check this novella out); some of the experiments brought to mind steam-punk, there are monsters and creatures (Lovecraftians will definitely have a field day); a grimoire written in an ancient language with fragments of translations that brings the occult into the story (and yes, secret societies as well)… All this in the historical background of the years following the American War of Independence, characters traumatised by what they had lived through, and an African-American protagonist, Salem Hawley, who has to deal with the added trauma of past slavery on top of everything else.
The story is narrated in the third person, mostly from Hawley’s point-of-view, although we also get to see things from the perspective of some of the less savoury characters (not that anybody is whiter than snow here, and that ambiguity makes them all the more real), and it is a page turner, with set action pieces and scenes difficult to forget. The rhythm of the language helps ramp up the tension and the frenzy of some of the most memorable battle scenes (we have memories of real battles and also battles against… oh, you’ll have to read it to see), which will be very satisfying to readers who love creature/monster horror. There are also some metaphysical and contemplative moments, but those do not slow down the action, providing only a brief breather and helping us connect with the characters and motivations at a deeper level.
I guess it’s evident from what I’ve said, but just in case, I must warn readers that there is plenty of violence, extreme violence, gore, and scary scenes (especially for people how are afraid of monsters and strange creatures), but the monsters aren’t the only scary beings in the story (there is a scene centred on one of the students —the cruellest one, based on a real historical character— that made my skin crawl, and I think it’s unlikely to leave anybody feeling indifferent). Also, this is the first novella in a series, and although the particular episode of the riot reaches a conclusion, there are things we don’t know, mysteries to be solved, and intrigue aplenty as the novella ends (oh, and there’s a female character I’m very intrigued by), so people who like a neat conclusion with all the loose end tied, won’t find it here.
I have also mentioned the author’s note at the end of the book, explaining where the idea for the series came from, offering insights and links into some of the research he used, and also accounting for the historical liberties he took with some of the facts (I must confess I had wondered about that, and, as a doctor, there were scenes that stretched the suspension of disbelief. Fans of historical fiction might take issue with the factual inaccuracies if they are sticklers for details. Perhaps a brief warning at the beginning of the book might put them at ease, because I think that moving the note to the beginning could detract from the element of surprise and enjoyment). I was fascinated by this historical episode (I was more familiar with the body snatchers exploits in the UK), and I’ll be sure to read more about it.
A thrilling story, well-written, packed with action, creature and cosmic horror, a great protagonist and a fascinating historical background. I can’t wait for part 2!
Thanks to NetGalley for providing me an ARC copy of this novella that I freely chose to review.