By Awnali Mills
Going with the recent unintentional theme of keys in my reading, I picked up The Blackthorn Key by Kevin Sands. This is a debut novel for the author, and I must say that he certainly comes out with a bang!
Christopher Rowe is an apprentice to the apothecary, Master Benedict, who has created a loving home for his orphaned apprentice. The two enjoy puzzles and codes, and the master delights in setting new challenges for Christopher. But apothecaries are being tortured and murdered, and Christopher soon discovers that the puzzles Master Benedict has set for him become a matter of life and death when the two become the target of the Cult of the Archangel. Can Christopher keep himself alive and out of jail long enough to solve his master’s riddle?
The Blackthorn Key is a wonderful historical fiction novel. Christopher manages to put his knowledge of puzzles, codes, and the apothecary’s art to good use to solve puzzles and save himself over and over. I think this would make a fantastic tie-in with science experiments that involve explosions and dissolving things, not to mention a study of the 1600s in England, as well as puzzles and codes. To my admittedly limited knowledge, Sands has gotten his historical facts correct, and the conflict between the Puritans and the Catholics ties in to the story. The tale is very engaging, with contrasting relationships, devotion, and true friendship.
And, yeah, stuff blows up. A lot.
Put this book into the hands of historical fiction fans, kids who like science (or at least explosions), and kids who like strong male characters. Be aware that there are some pretty bloody scenes, and some torture, but I didn’t feel anything was unduly graphic (nothing worse than things you find in Harry Potter). Still, fair warning to the squeamish.