Review: The Blackthorn Key

“It’s never the tool itself that decides. It’s the hands— and the heart— of the one who wields it,”  Kevin Sands

The Blackthorn Key by Kevin Sands
371 pages
Genre: Young Adult, historical fiction/fantasy
Published by Aladdin, 2015
Rating: 4 out 5 of stars
Re-readability: I might come back to this one someday.
Reviewed by Indiana
Spoiler-free review

All the best adventure stories have at least one rebellious character who is a bit too clever for their own good. The Blackthorn Key is one such book, though in the end, the protagonist’s cleverness is actually his saving grace.

Set in 1665 in England, the story is centered around Christopher Rowe, a young teen who is apprenticed to apothecary Master Benedict Blackthorn. Rowe is an orphan, who, besides his master, has only one friend in the world; Tom. Christopher is always getting the ever-loyal Tom into trouble. Right from the first scene in the book, Christopher drags Tom into helping him make a cannon in the apothecary shop and setting it off. Not the best idea to say the least.

However, even when Christopher gets into trouble for his explosive mischief, he quickly learns that there’s far more trouble than a loose cannon or two on their doorstep. Someone has been killing off apothecaries in the city. One by one they’ve been brutally murdered and the culprit has yet to be caught, despite extensive searches.

Both Christopher and Tom are worried that Blackthorn will be next, despite the apothecary’s assurances that he’ll be fine. When Blackthorn gives Christopher a coded puzzle to solve and a key to find, it leads him on a quest he must complete, especially as it’s not only his future that hangs on his success.

Kevin Sands’ recipe for creating a historically interesting world is brilliant. With a mix of historical details about apothecaries in the 1600s (perhaps little known to readers like myself) and a plot that seems to race along, The Blackthorn Key was great fun to read. I found it interesting that the apothecaries in Sands’ world wrote all their recipes in code, just in case other competing apothecaries should spy on them.

I also enjoyed all the little mysteries that Christopher had to solve and all the tricky situations he had to get himself out of. Though I can understand why some would think the pacing felt slow in some sections, I just enjoyed it the entire time. It felt like a classic almost Indiana Jones-like storyline.

I picked this one up on a whim at a library book sale and I’m glad I did. Hopefully I’ll be able to find the second soon.

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