July 29, 2016

The Blackthorn Key by Kevin Sands

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 2:58 pm by suebe2

23270216The Blackthorn Key
by Kevin Sands

“Tell no one what I’ve given you.”

For an orphan, Christopher Rowe leads a pretty good life.  As an apothecary’s apprentice to Master Benedict Blackthorn, Christopher studies how to read recipes, blend ingredients, and how to listen. He has to listen to what ails their customers as well as the directions his master gives him.

That sounds easier than it truly is because Master Blackthorn is teaching Christopher all about codes and puzzles.  Sometimes they are in English.  Sometimes they are in Latin.  Figuring out which language it is can be half the puzzle.

In addition to days spent learning, Christopher has a best friend. Tom is a baker’s apprentice, working with his hot-tempered father.  Together the two get up to all kinds of mischief even making the gunpowder they need for a small cannon.

But someone is killing apothecaries.  One by one the men are found gutted in their homes and their workshops.  Rumors fly thought out the city of London as to who is behind these killings and why they haven’t been caught.

Then one day Christopher’s kind master strikes him.  Christopher runs from the shop only to find that his master has been killed.  Christopher has to find the killer without falling victim to him while also discovering what his master was researching that attracted the killer in the first place.

This is an excellent book for young readers who love science, history or codes.  The science is chemistry but it isn’t the chemistry that we know today.  This is the chemistry of the apothecary which if often a matter of trial and error, and error can be deadly.  The setting is London in the 1600s, a time of plague, religious wars and intrigue.  The codes are many and involve both substitution codes for the letters themselves but also knowledge of the elements and the tools of the apothecary.

Warning:  Because of the codes I would not recommend listening to this as an audio book.  You want to be able to see the codes on the page, not listen to them being read, line after line.

I’ve seen some people describe this book as young adult but truly it is middle grade. Yes, with the killings and various apothecary-based accidents things can and do get ick but the emotional level of the book is pure middle grade.  That said, this is definitely a book that older readers would enjoy.

Share it with the history loving science nerd in your life. The codes alone will keep him or her puzzling as they try to figure out what is going on and who is behind it all.


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