I feel there is a lack of good quality MG historical fiction that is fun and adventurous, where the point isn't to teach a history lesson, but to just have a story that sweeps you up in its magic and action. The Blackthorn Key by Kevin Sands fills this need.
Christopher Rowe is an apothecary's apprentice in post Restoration London. He works hard, but he has a kind master who teaches him well and allows him enough free time for adventures that often end in mischief and trouble. He can't complain about his life. All of that starts to fall apart when a series of murders occur in their small corner of London. Murders that seem to be targeting apothecaries. When Christopher's master becomes the next victim, Christopher's entire future is left unsure. Worse he finds himself a suspect. As time is running out, Christopher races to find the true murder and finds himself caught in a web of politic intrigue and ancient intrigues.
Christopher is a hero whose story it is easy to get swept up in. When the reader meets him, he is trying to convince his best friend Thomas it would be a good use of their time to build a cannon. I really enjoyed the bond between Christopher and Thomas and how they behaved very much like typical kids their age. They have the responsibilities of their time and social situation that influences their life, but they are happy, active, inquisitive kids looking for ways to lighten the intensity of their days. Modern kids will be able to find much to identify with there.
The mystery aspect of the story is well done. I felt like the discoveries Christopher made were realistic enough to not stretch incredulity, but made for an adventurous read at the same time. What he was able to do and accomplish fit his character well too. He is a bright boy and is fueled by a desire to regain control of his future. It is the world's best motivator.
This is a book that is heavy with male characters. There are girls in the story who are helpful and if there is going to be a sequel, I would love to see some of them have a bigger role and importance. However, given the world in which Christopher was moving and working, the roles the girls played made sense.
As I read, I was just so excited to be reading a fun historical mystery where that was the whole point. So refreshing.