The Blackthorn Key by Kevin Sands (Puffin) PB RRP$16.99 ISBN 9780141360645
Reviewed by Dianne Bates
This novel will be most enjoyed by the teenager who enjoys the challenge of solving codes and reading a convoluted plot with a host of characters. Set in London in 1665 during the reign of King Charles II, it covers a mystery that involves murders and numerous searches by an apprentice apothecary Christopher Rowe and his close friend Tom Bailey.
Set over the months of May and June which stretches from Ascension Day to Spring’s End, the fast-paced story starts with the release of Christopher from an orphanage into his master apothecary’s care. Master Benedict Blackthorn is different from most masters insofar as he does not beat his apprentice but teaches him patiently and carefully how to mix potions, minerals and leaves to heal or for other reasons such as to melt iron and create keys.
However, Blackthorn, like ten other master apothecaries, is murdered. Then his workplace and home is ransacked with Christopher becoming homeless and learning that a man named Nathaniel Stubb and his apprentice Wic plan to torture him to learn a secret. Christopher has no idea what this secret is but his former master has gifted him a silver puzzle box and a set of clues in his ledger.
With Tom’s help and that of his sisters and a pet pigeon, Christopher attempts to find what it is that his master had treasured and why so many other masters have been assassinated to protect this treasure.
This is not an easy book to follow as there are many twists and turns and many mysteries that require knowledge of Latin and of the Bible (which Christopher has), and an ability to follow the cracking of the a set of complex codes. Nevertheless, the plot unfolds with writing that is clear and interesting, and plenty of tension along the way as it seems Christopher is meant to be the next murder victim unless he can escape numerous close calls.