STARRED REVIEW
September 01, 2015

Mysteries for an apothecary’s apprentice

By Kevin Sands

Debut novelist Kevin Sands is off to a roaring good start with The Blackthorn Key, which unfolds during six consecutive springtime days in 1665 London. Historical settings can be a bit off-putting to a young reader—they’re generally convinced that it’s going to be too “historical,” and without technology, how exciting can it be? But Sands imbues the story with all the realities of 17th-century England and still keeps the pace tripping along.

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Debut novelist Kevin Sands is off to a roaring good start with The Blackthorn Key, which unfolds during six consecutive springtime days in 1665 London. Historical settings can be a bit off-putting to a young reader—they’re generally convinced that it’s going to be too “historical,” and without technology, how exciting can it be? But Sands imbues the story with all the realities of 17th-century England and still keeps the pace tripping along.

Christopher Rowe is an apprentice to an apothecary named Benedict Blackthorn, and after the horrors of the orphanage, Christopher is eager to learn and please his benefactor. Blackthorn, recognizing his young student’s potential, teaches him everything from chemistry and Latin to church history and cryptography. It’s well that he does, as Christopher will need all his wits and knowledge to solve the mystery of the murdered apothecaries happening around him.

Full of codes and puzzles, action and adventure, trials of friendship and growing up, the lurking menace of murderers and secret societies, The Blackthorn Key is not easy to put down. Some descriptions of murders and other injuries may not be suitable to a reader as young as 8, but it won’t bother older children. Sands doesn't leave the story hanging—thankfully—but readers will hope he writes another book soon.

 

Jennifer Bruer Kitchel is the librarian for a Pre-K through 8th level Catholic school.

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The Blackthorn Key

The Blackthorn Key

By Kevin Sands
Aladdin
ISBN 9781481446518

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