Mark of the Plague: a Blackthorn Key Adventure by Kevin Sands

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Mark of the Plague: a Blackthorn Key Adventure by Kevin Sands

Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Linda Lawlor
Reviewed by Linda Lawlor
Summary: Seventeenth-century London is filled with mystery and danger as shadowy villains and the plague threaten the lives of young Christopher and his friends.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 448 Date: January 2017
Publisher: Puffin
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 9780141360669

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London during the plague – a terrifying place to be in any era. And in 1665, a time when relics and blessings are considered just as effective – if not more so – than medicines, it spreads at a horrific rate. Imagine it: if one person in a family starts to show the distinctive signs, everyone in the household is sealed in, meaning that they too will almost inevitably succumb and die a painful death. Quacks sell all manner of rubbish to desperate townsfolk, and prophets draw large crowds as they preach repentance for sin.

For Christopher Rowe, apprentice apothecary, life gets harder every day. He may have inherited the shop after the death of his master, but he is forbidden to sell potions and money is running short. Anyone who can afford to do so has fled the city, and the reward the Apothecaries' Guild promised him has never materialised. If things don't look up soon, hunger may well catch him before the plague can.

And yet, the overriding impression the book makes on the reader is not at all gloomy. Christopher is a lively, likeable lad who loves to carry out experiments which have a tendency to explode, set fire to the workshop or leave his long-suffering friend Tom with a fine array of bruises. He's brave and determined, never hesitating to help someone in need, and his love of codes and clues means the book is a level or two above the average thriller. Readers will enjoy trying to decipher the crucial messages which will foil a plot far more sinister and dangerous than the plague itself, and the tension is kept high right to the very end.

It's a sign of a really good story that a book so packed with plot still manages to develop the personalities of the main characters. Christopher has no parents, and has vivid memories of the miseries of life in an orphanage, so he is willing to allow Sally to stay even though he is low on food and cannot see how he will make it through the next few weeks. Sally herself is a quiet girl, but the cold charity of the poorhouse has made her equally dogged in her desire to survive and she soon becomes an integral part of the team. Her ability to read means she is invaluable when it comes to researching potions, and she has a very handy knowledge of the back streets and hidden gardens of the capital. And then there's Tom: big, strong and bluff, with a tendency to blush whenever a girl speaks to him, he spends his life protesting (usually ineffectually) at being used as the subject of Christopher's dafter – and more dangerous – experiments. He's loyal and generous, and despite being the son of a baker his constant hunger is legendary. Together these three young people make a fine team, and it is to be hoped that we will soon have more of their adventures to enjoy.

It's worth finding out just how our hero Christopher came to be the owner of an apothecary shop and why he and Tom are no strangers to the hidden perils and threats of life in seventeenth century London. Read The Blackthorn Key, which is just as exciting as the sequel. And for another story of plague, danger and mystery, you couldn't do better than Crow Boy by Philip Caveney. Sinister stuff!

Buy Mark of the Plague: a Blackthorn Key Adventure by Kevin Sands at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Mark of the Plague: a Blackthorn Key Adventure by Kevin Sands at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy Mark of the Plague: a Blackthorn Key Adventure by Kevin Sands at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Mark of the Plague: a Blackthorn Key Adventure by Kevin Sands at Amazon.com.


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