I received a digital advance reader’s copy (ARC) of The Corpse Queen by Heather M. Herrman. Since this version is just a proof and not the final version, I won’t quote directly and will keep my comments general.
In The Corpse Queen, Molly has spent the last few years living in an orphanage after the death of her parents. So when a woman claiming to be her aunt whisks her away to a new home, Molly is willing but wary. And there, Molly is swept into a new world of science and medicine, and the dark underbelly of both. Her aunt recruits her to be a body snatcher, obtaining “specimens” for dissection. Yet there are dangers stalking the streets: a murderer known only as the Knifeman, targeting women, and another figure called the Tooth Fairy, trying to edge his way into her aunt’s business. If that weren’t enough, Molly is determined to find out who killed her friend—and it surely must be one of those men.
This was a dark, strange tale. It’s pretty vivid and intense, which works for a horror novel, if that’s what you enjoy. It’s not my usual cup of tea, but the description intrigued me, and overall this wasn’t bad.
I liked getting to see the Philadelphia of the 1850s, and especially getting to see the way the field of medicine was practiced then. Obviously not everything in this book is real—I doubt the Tooth Fairy existed, for example—but the infamous tales of graverobbers selling bodies to medical students is certainly based in fact, and brought to life well here (uh, pun not intended).
I found the plot to be a little complex, but it was really intriguing. The way Molly’s investigation into her friend’s death began to overlap more and more with her work for her aunt was clever, and I really enjoyed seeing Molly’s determination to become a real doctor, especially in a time when women weren’t really ever educated in that field.
That said, this is definitely not a book for people who like easily likeable characters. Everyone is at least morally gray, if not outright mercenary and awful. Molly is more sympathetic than most of them, but she still makes certain decisions that made me question how much I really liked her. However, I never got to the point where I outright disliked her. Granted, that could be because, while I did find this intriguing, I wasn’t nearly as emotionally invested in this as I could have been.
For one thing, the romance wasn’t that interesting to me. I don’t think there was nearly enough time spent with Molly’s love interest for me to care much. For that matter, I think we could have spent a lot more time with Aunt Ava as well. There was a lot going on, and I think the book might have benefited from being a little longer.
That said, I’m pretty proud of myself for mostly figuring out the thing (sorry, spoilers) about the Knifeman before Molly did. That’s rare for me.
In the end, The Corpse Queen is a visceral, dark, intriguing tale. It’s a little lacking in certain areas for me, but it was still a haunting read. If you’re looking for a good YA horror novel to read around Halloween, check this out. (On the other hand, this book does warrant a graphic content warning, as there is gore—including murder, dissection/surgery, and a fairly graphic birth—so if that’s not something you want to read about, probably steer clear of this book.)
Overall rating: 7.9/10
The Corpse Queen will be published on September 14th, 2021!