The Blackthorn Key by Kevin Sands

 Published by Aladdin 

Summary:  Apothecaries around London are being murdered.  Christopher Rowe, apprentice to apothecary Benedict Blackwell, isn’t too worried…until his master sends him on a wild goose chase errand, and he returns to learn that Blackwell has become the latest victim.  Overwhelmed by grief, Christopher discovers an encoded message in the shop’s ledger and sets out to decipher it.  When he realizes Blackwell has named his killer in the message, Christopher knows he is in great peril.  Slowly, he uncovers the dangerous secrets of the Cult of the Archangel, and learns of his master’s involvement in activities designed to unleash the power of God.  Ultimately, Christopher must make certain that these powers don’t fall into the hands of the evil men who are seeking them…and rapidly closing in on Christopher himself.  Grades 5-8.

Pros:  Set in 17th-century London, this murder mystery/historical fiction thriller is a DaVinci Code for kids.  It took me awhile to dig into a book about an apothecary from the 1600’s, but Christopher is given a humorous, modern voice, without taking away from the historical authenticity.  With an escaped evildoer, uncertainty about Christopher’s next master, and the plague pushing against London’s borders, a sequel must surely be in the works.

Cons:  The final showdown gets pretty gory.  Someone loses half his fingers, a couple eyes are put out, and two characters will move into the next installment with a good portion of their faces gone.

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