“The Blackthorn Key” by Kevin Sands

I requested The Blackthorn Key from NetGalley mostly because I have a weakness for the seventeenth century. Actually, I have a weakness for a lot of historical fiction, as long as it’s the kind where the history provides the setting rather than every single line of description. You know the type. They’re like 800 pages long and by the time you finish, you feel like you read a textbook.

the blackthorn keyFortunately, that wasn’t the case with this one. Possibly because it’s more MG/YA than unadulterated historical fiction, Kevin Sands didn’t bombard the reader with factual stuff. While it’s set in 1665 and this is made clear by reference to things happening, the history doesn’t get in the way of the plot or the story, and at no point did I feel like I needed a degree to understand what was going on. So far, so good.

Actually, on the whole the book was good. I read it in just over an hour, which is a testament to (a) my ridiculous reading speed, (b) how excited I was by my shiny new Kindle, and (c) the fact that it was a fast-paced, engaging read. It had a lot of my favourite things, like an absence of romance and an emphasis on friendship (I’M SORRY, I’LL STOP MENTIONING THAT IN REVIEWS WHEN IT STOPS BEING REMARKABLE), as well as excitement, humour, and plenty of character development.

I absolutely loved the friendship between Christopher, the protagonist, and Thomas, his best friend. It was glorious. It was that amazingly loyal friendship that leads to mischief: getting each other into trouble and also getting them out of it. From the very first chapter it presents itself (“Let’s build a cannon.”) and it just gets better from there.

Tom pressed his ceramic shield to his chest. ‘This is a bad idea.’
I hopped down from the counter and grinned.

And the quote that really makes it:

‘Benedict once mentioned his apprentice had a friend so loyal that, no matter what ludicrous scheme the boy concocted, Thomas Bailey would be there, right beside him.’

I dunno, guys, I just LOVE THIS FRIENDSHIP. I loved that while Christopher had a lot to sort out on his own, and many things that Tom couldn’t do for him, they still depended on each other and trusted each other and it was beautiful.

Also, this book has zero romance, which is GOOD. All too rare, all too glorious.

The writing was pretty tight. It wasn’t one of those books where I drooled over the descriptions, but there were a few lines I highlighted because I liked them so much, all of them spoilery and from the end so you’re not getting them here (sorry). Despite the use of codes and ciphers, which can often be just as confusing to the reader as to the character, and/or painfully obvious to the reader while the characters remain densely unaware, I felt like I was on the same page as Christopher most of the time, except when I wasn’t supposed to know his plan.

And then the character development. Okay. So I have a lot of feels about Christopher’s relationship with his master Benedict (Christopher’s an apprentice for an apothecary). It helps that Christopher tells us some of his backstory and how he came to work for Benedict, and we see more than what the story itself involves. I liked the dynamic they had, this teacher-pupil relationship of mutual benefit and of respect.

I just really like books that portray different character dynamics as equally significant in people’s lives, you know? ALL OF THE APPRECIATION FOR VARYING FORMS OF LOVE. Man, I need to stop talking about that in reviews, you’re all gonna get bored of me soon. “Yeah, Miriam, we get it, you don’t like romance.” I’m sorry, okay? No more romance-bashing. In this review, at least.

The plot is engaging, convincing, and with just enough twists and turns to keep it unpredictable without losing me completely. So, pretty good.

There wasn’t anything particularly wrong with the book that I can think of. I’d have liked for there to be more female characters – the few we meet are very minor and don’t play a hugely significant role – but that’s just a matter of taste. I’m giving it four stars not because it lost the fifth, but just because it didn’t earn it, you know? Things have to be super special to nab that rating.

All in all, it was a worthy book to christen my new Kindle, and I’m grateful for being approved for it on NetGalley.

Rating: ****

The Blackthorn Key is due to be released on September 8th, 2015, so the above review and quotes refer to an e-ARC received from NetGalley, blah blah blah.

Buy ‘The Blackthorn Key’ on Amazon (UK)

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