The Blackthorn Key by Kevin Sands
|The Blackthorn Key by Kevin Sands
|Category: Confident Readers
|Reviewer: Linda Lawlor
|Summary: Conspiracies, secret codes, murder and plenty of explosions – bring a packed lunch, because once you start reading you won't be able to put this thrilling book down. Thirteen-year-old orphan Christopher has found happiness for the first time in his life as an apprentice to the apothecary Master Benedict Blackthorn, but it is not destined to last. The members of a shadowy group want the details of a recipe known only to a few people, and they're prepared to torture and kill to get hold of it. Christopher stands to lose everything he holds dear – including his life.
|Date: September 2015
|External links: Author's website
Shortlisted for the Waterstones Children's Book Prize 2016: Younger Fiction
Seventeenth-century England isn't always a comfortable place to live. Apart from the obvious differences from the modern-day – no National Health Service, no laws to protect children from cruelty and exploitation, and a constant foul smell from poor sanitation - fear and suspicion are a daily fact of life. In 1665 Charles II has been back on the throne for several years, but not everyone is happy about his extravagant and luxurious lifestyle, even among those who found the Puritan rules of Cromwell's time excessively strict. There are spies everywhere, and rumours of conspiracies fill the streets. It's a time to keep your head down and avoid attention from the authorities.
Not that Christopher lets that worry him too much: when he's not working in the shop or studying he's too busy involving his friend Tom in madcap schemes. His apprenticeship to an apothecary gives him access to all manner of interesting potions and powders, and long-suffering Tom considers himself lucky to have escaped with minor burns and scalds, plus a few nasty stomach aches. Indeed, in the very first line of the book, our hero suggests it would be fun to build a cannon – a real one, with proper gunpowder. And he does, too, with pretty predictable consequences. Makes feeding your homework to the dog seem almost virtuous in comparison, doesn't it?
Christopher is such an enthusiastic boy that the reader is just as willing as Tom to forgive him the occasional 'accident' during his experiments. He is cheerful and friendly, determined to work hard at his Latin and potions to please his master, but in no way is he a goody-goody – without meaning to, he somehow finds himself in trouble way too often for that! And yet, when a dreadful disaster strikes, he doesn't hesitate for a second to carry out his master's wishes, even though this means he is hunted by ruthless men who will use horrible tortures without hesitation, and who are ready to kill anyone they see as a threat to their plans. Reader, beware – Christopher endures some really painful (and vividly described) moments throughout the book, and not all the good guys survive to the end. But it's such an exciting story, so well told with such believable and likeable characters, that you'll accept that. And the good news is that Christopher and his friends are due for two further adventures, so there's no need to feel sad when you reach the last page.
If you want more historical fiction which combines rip-roaring adventure with a brilliantly clear picture of life in times past, try the tales of Pinky, a young detective in the Wild, Wild West. Start with The Western Mysteries: The Case of the Deadly Desperados by Caroline Lawrence then try the sequels The Case of the Good-looking Corpse and The Case of the Bogus Detective. Or, if you prefer your mysteries closer to home, investigate the exploits of another young detective, the intriguingly named Slightly Jones. Bookbag recommends Slightly Jones Mystery: The Case of the Glasgow Ghoul by Joan Lennon and The Case of the Hidden City. We also have a review of Mark of the Plague: a Blackthorn Key Adventure by Kevin Sands.
The Blackthorn Key by Kevin Sands is in the Top Ten Books for Confident Readers 2015.
You can read more book reviews or buy The Blackthorn Key by Kevin Sands at Amazon.co.uk Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
You can read more book reviews or buy The Blackthorn Key by Kevin Sands at Amazon.com.
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