A different brand of body snatchers…
Hello, friends and foes! It’s time for another book review! I post about one of these a month because I read about one book a month. At least, one spooky book that’s fit for the blog. Shockingly, I do have other literary interests outside the macabre.
I finished Heather M. Herrman’s sophomore novel The Corpse Queen in about a day and a half. One of those, “if I put this book down right now it’s all I’m going to think about for the next few hours so I might as well just not put it down” type of reads. It was fast-paced, witty, topical (who knew we would still be facing the same sexism in modern day as we were in 1855!!), and just the right amount of gritty and gory. I’m a sucker for a period piece, and this book about an 1850’s orphan in Philadelphia was exactly what I needed to quench my thirst for something I could only comp as Jack the Ripper x Body Snatchers x grave robbers.
We meet down on her luck orphan Molly at a strange time in her life. Her best friend Kitty has just been murdered, presumably by the young doctor-in-training with whom she had recently fallen in love. Molly doesn’t think she has any family left to claim her – but she’s wrong. A long-lost aunt brings Molly to her rich, gated estate in high-society Philadelphia. Molly is shocked at a member of her family having so much wealth when all she has ever known is poverty. How could someone from the same roots as her family be so rich??
By robbing graves and selling the corpses to medical schools. That’s how.
Molly joins the family business and does her best to collect the bodies alongside practiced grave-robber Thomas. But she learns more from her strange aunt than just how to steal. Molly learns the true value of a corpse, and in turn the value of the person they were when they were living. Every body gives the medical students a chance to make impressive scientific and medical discoveries. Every day they come closer to uncovering the great biological secrets of mankind. It wouldn’t be possible without the work of Molly’s aunt and her system of grave robbery.
But Molly’s aunt isn’t the only person in Philadelphia with a liking for the dead. There’s a killer on the loose, somehow connected to Molly’s family business. There’s a menacing figure called the Tooth Fairy who, you guessed it, takes only the teeth from found cadavers. There’s love and drama and intrigue and a mystery that culminates into a final grave being dug, once and for all – and if Molly can outsmart all those who told her she was worthless, the grave won’t be her own.
I loved 99% of my reading experience with this book. I found Molly’s character to be a bit stand-offish (in the best way – like how would you act if you found out your long lost aunt made a fortune scavenging dead bodies?) but very intelligent. It was rewarding to watch Molly grow from a grief-stricken and penniless orphan into a confident young woman who wants to break free of the grave-robbing business and study to become a doctor – an incredible feat for American women of the time.
The plot had some super interesting twists and turns that held my attention from beginning to end. No spoilers (because we don’t do spoilers here) but the BIG REVEAL was, like, HUGE. And very well executed, in my humble opinion.
I don’t tend to write negative reviews (if I don’t like a book I just don’t review it but I will still mention it in my Twitter thread here ). I actually don’t even tend to mention the negative qualities of books I’ve read because, overall, I really really liked them. I’m pretty quick to DNF a book I’m not into.
All this is to say that there was only one aspect of The Corpse Queen that threw me off – the mad dash rush to the end. Maybe it’s a YA thing, maybe it’s a me thing, but I felt like there was such a massive push to explain everything and get as much last minute action as possible in the last four or five chapters that just left a weird taste in my mouth. The Epilogue set that taste right again, however!!! It was very good and, in my opinion, very necessary and satisfying. Maybe I have to do some of my own soul-searching and think about why I just don’t like the rushed and dramatic endings of some of my recent reads.
In any case, I’m 100% happy I read this book and would absolutely recommend it to anyone looking for an eerie and bloody read about a girl, her family, and some dead bodies. And a deranged doctor, some guy named the Tooth Fairy, and a Vaudeville performer/prostitute with a pet duck.
4 stars overall, 3 stars on the scare scale
Reader beware, you’re in for a scare! Or, not. Trick-or-treat, after all.
Book cover art is used Pursuant to 17 U.S. Code § 107 under the “fair use” defense.
All other images are certified public domain.