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Dr. Spencer Black was a brilliant doctor whose career was derailed by an obsession with mythological creatures. He believed that anatomical deformities were not so much mutations as throwbacks to earlier days in the evolutionary timeline. He believed he could prove this by recreating creatures from fable and myth. If he could make them viable, they must have existed, right? He left behind a body of work that is incredible for its detail of beings that have only been seen in imagination–for centuries anyway, if Dr. Black’s theory is correct.
I want to give this 5 stars, I really do. I gravitate more toward words than pictures though and the story in this book was not quite as strong as the art. I feel like I fumbled through my synopsis but that’s because I was never entirely clear what Dr. Black was supposed to be trying to do with his work. It was a bit awkward and flimsy but I was mostly able to let it go because I knew there had to be a payoff in the illustrations.
There were some genuinely creepy moments though. The part where Dr. Black’s wife and brother find out what he’s up to left me worried that I wouldn’t be sleeping that night. It was that disturbing. It had a Frankenstein feel to it without Victor Frankenstein‘s histrionics and hysterics so I really liked that aspect as well.
The last–oh, let’s call it 2/3–of the book were gorgeous anatomical illustrations of mythical creatures. I tried hard to take my time through them and look at them closely and fully appreciate them. I can sometimes tear way too fast through pictures in a book.
These were genuine works of art. I was amazed at the amount of detail that went into them. I was left wondering if the author was a science illustrator as well. My favorite drawings were of the mermaids. They were just gorgeous. He has put a lot of thought into how these beings would actually work. The minotaur has a tremendous support system holding that big bull head up. The mermaids have dorsal fins to help them stay oriented correctly in the water. I could go on, but I won’t.
There’s a part of me that wishes the illustrations were in color. Not necessarily the anatomical drawings, but definitely the full rendering. They’re amazing either way though.
I also loved the scientific names he came up with. From the fairly obvious Sirenus oceanus for mermaids to the more subtle but pleasing Pegasus gorgonus, I loved all of the ones that I understood….
I just googled all of the ones that I didn’t immediately understand and they are all perfect. It’s a small, nerdy thing but it appeals to me.
Lovers of mythology and fantastical creatures should adore this book. I intend to put it out in October as my spooky coffee table book. I’ll probably reference it when I come across these beings in my other reading as well. It is definitely a book to be dipped into again and again.
Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy for review!
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I have an affiliate relationship with Malaprop’s, my local independent bookstore located in beautiful downtown Asheville, NC; and Better World Books. I will receive a small commission at no cost to you if you purchase books through links on my site. My opinions are completely my own.