I just finished reading a wonderful fantasy novel for the second time: "Foundling (Monster Blood Tattoo book I)," by first time author D.M. Cornish. The book was sent to CCF as a review copy by a Senior Editor at G.P. Putnam's Sons. The paperback edition [ISBN: 0142409138] came out September 6, 2007. This is a young boy's survival story that is sure to grab middle grade students' attention.
The world building Cornish carries out in this book is so exquisitely woven and the story's characters so well developed that I forgot I was supposed to read the book in order to write a review and instead allowed the story to carry me along. I then went back and read it again, this time marking things as I went. I loved reading this fantasy story once and then once more.
Upon opening the envelope when the review copy came in the mail I was intrigued by the cover art. It shows the outline of a monster as it is coming out of the woods. Turn the book over and you see the illustration wraps around the spine of the book and continues on the back, where you see the silhouette of a young boy hiding in the thicket. It appears that the monster is passing quite close to where the boy is hiding and that is, indeed, what takes place during one of the tension-filled scenes in the story.
Foundling (Monster Blood Tattoo book I) is a story of survival. It's the story of Rossamünd, an orphan boy growing up in Madam Opera's Estimable Marine Society for Foundling Boys and Girls, who desires, against all odds, to make something of himself. He is an idealist at heart, loves to read about heroes and battles between good and evil, and is in awe of teratologists, those who kill monsters and then bear a tattoo made from the monster's blood. He survives bullying in the orphanage and endears himself to several of his tutors who go out of their way to teach, protect, and empower him to continue to grow into the young man he's destined to be. This takes place without the adults taking over the storyline. This is, first and foremost, the survival story of a young boy, and the author makes sure the focus stays on Rossamünd and not on the secondary characters that surround him.
The story has many of the components that would make it a must read for middle grade students. It has a likeable enough protagonist who must rely on his wits to survive the heroes and monsters he comes in contact with. Tension racks up when Rossamünd leaves the orphanage with plans to take up what he thinks will be a safe, albeit boring, job in the service of the Emperor of Half-Continent only to find himself catapulted from one misadventure into another. Our young protagonist must survive captivity at sea and on land and must decide whether to save the life of a super hero he's not too sure he actually likes, all the while trying to distinguish between good and bad monsters and those who fight them. If at first he's clumsy and naive and makes wrong decisions, his determination to survive drives him to work his way out as best he can and continue to learn and grow as he moves along. The storyline is paramount and the lessons woven throughout are shown rather than told, never crossing the line into didactic teaching of right and wrong but rather allowing the reader to interpret for themselves the value, meaning and consequences of the actions Rossamünd takes as he faces and survives countless life and death situations.
I loved everything about the book except the ending. This is the first book in what promises to be either a series or a trilogy but one of my pet peeves is that even in books in this category, each book needs to stand on its own and deliver a satisfying ending to the reader. The last few pages in this book are lists of questions about what the protagonist is facing and will have to face in the days to come. I was left with the feeling that the 312 pages I read were merely an introduction to book two. I would have been happier had those last few pages been deleted and the book had ended with a better sense of closure. To be fair to Cornish, other great stories also follow this pattern (Golden Compass, Lord of the Rings). They end their books with a series of questions that'll be addressed in books to come.
That being said, it's hats off to Cornish for the way he developed the storyline and the amazing amount of background information that comes along with the book. Normally, writers attempt to include massive amounts of information and back-story within the story itself, resulting in a storyline that drags and bogs down. Cornish did it right. The story is 312 pages and then comes "The Explicarium: Being a glossary of terms and explanations including appendices." This wonderfully informative section at the end of the book goes on for 121 pages. It's there if the reader wants to learn more about the nuances woven throughout the story but not forced fed into the storyline itself.
I'll be looking forward to Cornish's second book (Lamplighter, due for release in April 2008) because I really, really, really want to find out what happens next to Rossamünd Bookchild, the young and courageous protagonist in the story.
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