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.
Had the book only contained the intriguing, very detailed anatomical sketches of mythical creatures with human characteristics (or vice versa), The Resurrectionist still would have been a curious but fascinating tome. Hudspeth's imaginative rendering of fantasy in a pseudo-medical setting is ingenious. But the sketches are preceded by a biography of the enigmatic Dr. Spencer Black, which provides a very sinister dimension, one that is only fully realized once the reader arrives at the last set of sketches.
There's a quietness to the narrative style which makes the strange events of his life all the more startling, beginning with a childhood spent robbing graves of their corpses to provide anatomy specimens for his father, a medical doctor. From there, Dr. Black's life seems to settle into normality, only to veer into the macabre, and then the horrific.
Warning: bad things happen to animals.
With the exception of one very graphic scene, however, Hudspeth mostly clouds Dr. Black in suggestive mystery. Is he mad? Is he a genius? A charlatan? What happened to his wife? What happened to him? The biographical section ends with all of these murky questions swirling around. But with the illustrations of these strange human/mythical hybrids, some of them are answered. I turned the last page, thinking, "Oh!"