Monster Blood Tattoo by D M Cornish
|Monster Blood Tattoo by D M Cornish|
|Reviewer: Jill Murphy|
|Summary: A clever and well-judged mix of pacy style and geeky detail, Monster Blood Tattoo will hit the spot with all junior fantasy addicts. Moral ambiguity gives it a thematic edge over many of its contemporaries.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 448||Date: February 2007|
|Publisher: David Fickling Books|
Rossamund Bookchild, an orphaned boy saddled with a girl's name, leaves Madam Opera's Estimable Marine Society for Foundling Boys and Girls to begin his career as a lamplighter of the Half Continent. The humans of the Half Continent are engaged in a permanent war against the monsters of the wilds - the bogles, the shrewds, the grinnlings. And out alone in the world for the very first time, Rossamund encounters more than a few of them on his journey to begin his new - and dangerous - career. He also meets his first lahzar - a fighter of monsters - and sees his first monster-blood tattoo, the mark of a kill.
This is a fantasy take on the orphan-comes-good Oliver Twist theme and D M Cornish's Half-Continent eschews the usual medieval setting for his fantasy world, instead making the human element feel very Dickensian. The fantasy comes from both monsters and magic and a peculiar mix of bio-technology and alchemy - lahzars are surgically altered to give them superhuman powers, boats are powered by captive organic muscles and sail across seas of caustic vinegar. The world-building in Monster Blood Tattoo is of a breathtaking complexity - there is a glossary or explicarium at the end of over a hundred pages, containing every detail any junior fantasy fan could ever want to know. It's almost Tolkeinesque.
Happily, all this trainspotterish detail doesn't detract from the plot. Most things are either explained or obvious without recourse to the glossary and the pace is smart and tidy. Rossamund has some pretty straightforward and highly enjoyable adventures as he tries to make his way across the Half Continent to begin his new job. Any lover of fantasy adventure aged ten and up could approach Monster Blood Tattoo with confidence. The more geeky among them can enjoy the explicarium to their heart's content, while the rest can ignore it if they want to.
Two things stand out in Monster Blood Tattoo. The illustrations are wonderful. Cornish was an illustrator before he was a writer and the book is filled with pencil sketch portraits. They are strong and atmospheric and they really do flesh out the main characters. There is also a background theme of discrimination and moral certainties are tried, tested and found wanting. The books isn't a simple pitting of good against evil and Rossamund is forced to reassess his view of monsters when he finally gets to meet them. The real villain isn't always clear.
Lifted above much of the competition by this blurring of good and evil, Monster Blood Tattoo will particularly appeal to children who like the background detail of a fantasy world as much as they like the stories within it. And they will read it over and over (and over and over) again.
Thanks to the publisher, David Fickling, for sending the book.
Children who prefer gory stories told in a more straightforward, less geeky way will enjoy Darren Shan's Demonata series. Those who enjoy fantasy worlds generally might like Jason Hightman's Samurai and those who enjoy moral dilemmas cloaked in fantasy should read Katherine Langrish's Troll series.
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