Review: The Blackthorn Key by Kevin Sands
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Simon & Schuster Canada via Goodreads First Reads. Thank you!
Publication: September 1, 2015 by Aladdin
Verdict: Very Good
Following a series of murders, an apothecary’s apprentice must solve puzzles and decipher codes in pursuit of a secret that could destroy the world in this suspenseful debut novel.
“Tell no one what I’ve given you.”
Until he got that cryptic warning, Christopher Rowe was happy, learning how to solve complex codes and puzzles and creating powerful medicines, potions, and weapons as an apprentice to Master Benedict Blackthorn—with maybe an explosion or two along the way. But when a mysterious cult begins to prey on London’s apothecaries, the trail of murders grows closer and closer to Blackthorn’s shop. With time running out, Christopher must use every skill he’s learned to discover the key to a terrible secret with the power to tear the world apart.
In his stunning debut novel, Kevin Sands brings readers on a heart-stopping adventure rich with suspense, mystery, and unforgettable characters.
Making a foray into the competitive and trend-driven world of children’s literature cannot be easy, so I applaud Canadian author Kevin Sands for crafting such a compelling, fresh and intriguing middle-grade debut novel. An enticing blend of historical mystery and suspense, with darker elements and more graphic combats along the lines of Harry Potter and The Hangman’s Daughter, The Blackthorn Key is an exciting and oft-ferocious read.
With orphaned Christoper Rowe as our intelligent, feisty and crafty narrator, readers are immersed into seventeenth century London, unforgiving, all-around harsh and filled with competing apothecaries. Christopher, trailed by his steadfast best friend Tom, are usually in the midst of accidental discoveries and booming, spilling accidents. With an unnatural yet honed gift for understanding potions, mixtures and solving cryptic puzzles, Christopher is grateful for his life with his beloved Master Benedict. When tragedy strikes close to Christopher’s adopted home, we discover that Master Benedict had been slowly preparing Christopher to solve the most challenging, most potentially catastrophic code to ever face an apothecary- and society.
More harrowing than I expected, Sands has brought to life a shadowy and dark ancient world here; a quick-moving story that makes for compulsive reading. I personally would have liked a touch more background given to the major apothecaries, their guild, and their history as relating to the story. Moreover, as the novel is just so rich with action- constantly forward-moving- some breathing room for the story and lead characters to pause, to reflect and develop would have been welcome. Overall though, The Blackthorn Key is a strong debut that makes for compulsive and edge-of-your-seat reading.
Readers who love worlds filled with fights between forces of good and evil, of challenges, of heartbreak, and those who enjoy the problem solving and puzzles found in series such as The Mysterious Benedict Society might especially enjoy The Blackthorn Key. I would recommend this title for readers looking for something new and thrilling to read in historical fiction and mysteries; those who enjoy the series and authors already mentioned, as well as authors such as Kenneth Oppel, Katherine Rundell, Jonathan Auxier, or Claire Legrand. I truly look forward to read what Sands authors next, curious to see if he continues along the historical fiction lines or breaks into contemporary or another genre.
I received a copy of this book courtesy of Simon & Schuster Canada via Goodreads First Reads in exchange for an honest review. All opinions and comments are my own.