Thursday, September 15, 2016

Review: The Blackthorn Key by Kevin Sands

The Blackthorn Key (The Blackthorn Key, Book #1)
by Kevin Sands
Release Date: September 1st 2015
2015 by Aladdin
Ebook Edition; 384 Pages
ISBN: 978-1481446518
Genre: Fiction / Children / Historical
Source: Review copy from publisher

5 / 5 Stars

“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.

My Thoughts
The Blackthorn Key is the first book in a series, and it was a lot of fun to read.  A fast-paced historical mystery, with a great deal of attention to historical detail, it was a novel full of mystery, puzzles, action, and delight.  I especially liked the themes of loyalty and friendship that ran through these pages with nary a romantic triangle in sight.  

Christopher is an interesting character and I liked him quite a bit.  His inquisitiveness got him and his best friend in trouble quite a bit, but it was this ability to question that also saved his life on numerous occasions.  And the ability to solve problems.  Having apprenticed to Benedict Blackthorn these many years, Christopher had learned many unusual things such as potions, healing herbs, explosives, and secret remedies.  I found Christopher to be a typical boy whereby curiosity often got the better of him, blowing up various items in his master's shop as a result, creating some very humourous scenes.  It was something I could actually picture my own son doing if the right conditions existed so I did think it was funny.  I thought the author had a good grasp of boys and some of the ways they think and act; I can't imagine it was that different 500 years ago if the situation was right.  Give boys explosive devices and free time to explore them, and I imagine chaos would erupt no matter the century. 

I really liked the exploration of the themes of friendship and loyalty that were explored in this book.  Too often we see books where the main characters fight or do not get along so it was nice to see a book where the friends actually supported one another and helped each other no matter the odds.  I really liked the bond between Christopher and Thomas, and really liked Thomas' sisters as well.  I also liked how the author explored the time period through the action and not through long-winded descriptions, so the young reader would get an appreciation of how difficult life could be for those who were somewhat disadvantaged.  He didn't sugar-coat anything, but it wasn't overly graphic either which was nice.  It was just how things were through Christopher's eyes.   The author has a nice sense of writing style which keeps you interested in the action without downplaying the descriptions.  As a historical fiction fan, and someone who teaches history, I did have to constantly remind myself that I was reading a children's novel as I would have liked a bit more exploration of the time period.  It did not however, detract from the novel at all.   

The Blackthorn Key was a pleasant surprise and one that I enjoyed tremendously.  If I have anything negative to say about this book it would be about the lack of female characters; a couple would round off the story nicely.  That is only just a wish however, as Christopher's world probably would not have had many females in it, particularly since alchemy was a male-dominated area.  I highly recommend this book to anyone who is looking for something fun and refreshing to read.  Plain and simple, it was just simply fun to read.