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The blackthorn key




First Aladdin hardcover edition.
New York : Aladdin, 2015.
Physical Description:
371 pages : illustrations ; 22 cm.
Series title(s):
Number in series:
General Note:
"A Junior Library Guild selection"--Jacket flap.
In 1665 London, fourteen-year-old Christopher Rowe, apprentice to an apothecary, and his best friend, Tom, try to uncover the truth behind a mysterious cult, following a trail of puzzles, codes, pranks, and danger toward an unearthly secret with the power to tear the world apart.
Reading Level:
Ages 10-14.
Program Information:
Accelerated Reader 4.6.

Reading Counts! 3.5.

3.5 Reading Counts RC 6-8 66543.

Accelerated Reader AR 4.6 10.0 176195.


Call Number
J Sands, K.
TEEN Sands, K.
YA Sands
J Sands, K.

On Order



Following a series of murders, an apothecary's apprentice must solve puzzles and decipher codes in pursuit of a secret that could destroy the world in this suspenseful debut novel.

"Tell no one what I've given you."

Until he got that cryptic warning, Christopher Rowe was happy, learning how to solve complex codes and puzzles and creating powerful medicines, potions, and weapons as an apprentice to Master Benedict Blackthorn--with maybe an explosion or two along the way.

But when a mysterious cult begins to prey on London's apothecaries, the trail of murders grows closer and closer to Blackthorn's shop. With time running out, Christopher must use every skill he's learned to discover the key to a terrible secret with the power to tear the world apart.

In his stunning debut novel, Kevin Sands brings readers on a heart-stopping adventure rich with suspense, mystery, and unforgettable characters.

Author Notes

Since escaping from university with a pair of degrees in theoretical physics, Kevin Sands has worked as a researcher, a business consultant, and a teacher. He lives in Toronto, Canada. He is the author of the award-winning and bestselling Blackthorn Key series.

Antonio Javier Caparo is a Cuban-born illustrator and designer. Although much of his early career was spent in graphic design, his passion for animation and comics led him to devote himself to illustration--both traditional and digital. He has been published around the world and has won numerous awards in multiple countries. He lives in Quebec, Canada.

Reviews 6

School Library Journal Review

Gr 3-6-Christopher Rowe's life has changed for the better. For the past three years he has been apprenticed to Master Benedict Blackthorn to learn the apothecary trade. Having grown up in an unhappy and sometimes violent orphanage, Christopher is extremely grateful for his kind and patient master and the knowledge he is gaining from him. However, when a mysterious group begins torturing and murdering London apothecaries, Christopher's course takes a terrible turn. He finds himself in the fight of his life and must solve a series of complex codes left for him by his master. Combining a touch of humor with codes, puzzles, mystery, and a heavy dose of edge-of-your-seat suspense, this is a riveting tale from start to finish. Reader Ray Panthaki does a skillful job building on this already masterful tale with his pacing and compelling voices. His vocals present Christopher as a thoroughly likable character for whom listeners will be rooting from start to finish. VERDICT This compelling adventure is a winner. ["An excellent story for middle grade readers who enjoy puzzles, action, and fantasy": SLJ 8/15 starred review of the Aladdin book.]-Deanna Romriell, Salt Lake City Public Library, UT © Copyright 2015. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Publisher's Weekly Review

First-time novelist Sands has written an exciting and self-assured tale of alchemy and dark secrets set during the late-17th-century reign of King Charles II. Fourteen-year-old orphan Christopher Rowe is lucky to be apprenticed to a kindly apothecary, Master Benedict Blackthorn. But someone-the Cult of the Archangel, it is rumored-is murdering London's apothecaries, believing that members of the Apothecary's Guild are concealing a dangerous secret. Christopher is an easygoing boy, fond of pranks and experiments (the book opens with his ill-advised and ill-fated attempt at mixing up some gunpowder), but after Master Benedict is assaulted, he finds himself on the run, pursued by the murderous henchmen of a rival apothecary and the dangerous Lord Richard Ashcombe, His Majesty's Warden. Sands adeptly balances the novel's darker turns with moments of levity and humor, and fills the book with nicely detailed characters and historical background-plus lots of explosions. It's a story that should have broad appeal, while especially intriguing readers with an existing interest in chemistry, history, and decoding puzzles. Ages 10-14. Agent: Daniel Lazar, Writers House. (Sept.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Horn Book Review

Orphan and apothecary's apprentice Christopher Rowe lives a happy, hardworking life in seventeenth-century London until a string of murders comes too close, killing his mentor, Master Benedict Blackthorn. Using his training in codes and medicines and his quick mind, Christopher must discover the killer without getting killed himself. Sands's adventurous, fast-paced debut will keep readers on the edge of their seats from page one. (c) Copyright 2016. The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Kirkus Review

It is 1665 London, and the streets are filled with orphans, thieves, madmen, and a few young apprentices as eager to have fun as to learn their trades. Fourteen-year-old Christopher is luckier than most. The apothecary Master Benedict Blackthorn is both intelligent and kind, forgiving both Christopher's mistakes as well as his ill-planned pranks. But when the Cult of the Archangel kills his master, Christopher is determined to complete his master's work and bring the killers to justice. However, all he has for help are his friend, baker's son Tom, and a hastily scribbled coded message from his master. This stunning and smart mystery is made even better by well-researched historical detail, intriguing characters, and genuinely funny moments. Whether accidentally shooting the shop's taxidermed bear with his homemade gun powder or outsmarting a ruthless cult of killers, Christopher makes a terrific protagonist, but it's his love for his friends and master as well as his fearless intellectual curiosity that make him a true hero. An epigraph sagely, if unnecessarily, warns against employing the many 17th-century remedies. While many readers will love the story, it is unlikely they will try a recipe for saltpeter that involves marinating pigeon droppings in urinebut they will revel in reciting it at dinnertime. An author's note discusses standardized spelling and the Gregorian vs. Julian calendars. A spectacular debut. (Historical mystery. 8-12) Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Booklist Review

*Starred Review* For most orphans in seventeenth-century London, life is cruel and short. Christopher Rowe is one of the lucky few: chosen for an apprenticeship to a kind and brilliant apothecary, Benedict Blackthorn, Christopher is happily learning to solve complex intellectual puzzles and concoct everything from healing potions to gunpowder. But this idyll is not destined to last someone is murdering the apothecaries of London. On Christopher's fourteenth birthday, Blackthorn is killed, the shop ransacked, and suspicion falls on the young apprentice. Beleaguered and on the run, his only assistance the help of his friend Tom, Christopher must follow his master's last instructions, written as a series of puzzles, to uncover the secret superweapon sought by his master's murderers and then decide what to do with it. Sands' thrilling debut is full of twists, turns, and ingenious codes and riddles. At the same time, the book also brings Reformation England to life in exquisite period detail, exploring the roots of modern science, medicine, and explosives, and Christopher's moral dilemma of what to do with a doomsday weapon is both touching and timeless. This is the kind of story that cuts across genres to appeal to a wide range of children.--Zeitlin Cooke, Ariel Copyright 2015 Booklist

New York Review of Books Review

WHEN CHRISTOPHER ROWE, the central character of Kevin Sands's "The Blackthorn Key," is taken from a miserable life at an orphanage and apprenticed to the gentle, absent-minded apothecary Master Benedict Blackthorn, he displays both curiosity and intelligence. Other than an unfortunate incident involving gunpowder and a stuffed bear, his master is happy with him. But soon apothecaries start turning up dead all over London. After Christopher's master is pulled into the gruesome affair, the boy tries to learn who is behind the murders. His loyal and often unappreciated best friend, Tom, accompanies him on a quest that tests both boys' mettle, their ability to solve complicated riddles and the strength of their friendship. In this impeccably researched debut, Christopher learns that there was much more to his kindly, distracted master than he realized - and that his own intellect and confidence are the strongest weapons against evil. Sands's representation of the teeming, stinking streets of 17th-century London is remarkable in its detail. We meet paranoid politicians, witness the casual abuse of children and hear the ubiquity of Christian idioms and ideologies. It all feels very real, despite fantastical touches like a mystical cult and a substance that harnesses "the power of God Himself." Though Sands avoids, for the most part, the dreaded fantasy-novel "info dump," the early narrative is occasionally slowed by Christopher's flashbacks. But the story gains a relentless momentum in the second half, when Christopher shines as a humorous narrator who is flawed enough to be relatable, but not so flawed that we can't imagine him succeeding in his quest. Perhaps the most refreshing aspect of the book is the trust Christopher's master places in him. In a genre where many adults are either dead, detached or outright villainous, a caring adult with complete faith in his charge's savvy is a nice change. The true villains of the book are cleverly concealed, resulting in a puzzle-filled, satisfyingly twisty tale. "The Doldrums," by Nicholas Gannon, presents readers with an entirely different kind of puzzle: the question of how the novel's imaginative but insulated protagonist will ever escape his painfully unadventurous life. Like "The Blackthorn Key," the story is absorbing, the characters memorable (though both books do suffer from a marked ethnic homogeneity as well as a dearth of positive female characters, neither of which reflects the diverse readership of middle-grade novels). Archer B. Helmsley, the grandson of two unabashed adventurers, lives in a brownstone filled with souvenirs of their globetrotting. Growing up in such a fascinating home understandably gives the boy a desire for adventures of his own. Unfortunately for him, he lives with an ineffectual father and a mother with a Dursley-esque aversion to strange "tendencies." She rarely allows him to leave the house, but his grandparents' disappearance on an iceberg in Antarctica offers him his chance to escape his tedious existence. Archer decides to find out what has happened to them by visiting Antarctica himself and enlists the aid of his reluctant neighbor Oliver and his mysterious new friend Adélaïde. None of the children in the book are perfect. While they can be clever and generous, they are also, on occasion, selfish and deceitful. The narrator's acknowledgment of this endears them to the reader further, as if to say, "Well, really, when you were growing up, were you any better?" The adult characters lack the multidimensionality of their young counterparts. The villainess is pure evil, the grandparents idealized. But perhaps this reflects Archer's mind-set: As such a sheltered child, he doesn't have the life experience to recognize much depth in grown-ups. At its best, "The Doldrums" brings to mind the authority and panache of authors like Roald Dahl and Beatrix Potter, though without quite those authors' skill at narrative propulsion. At least the leisurely pacing allows the reader to pore over Gannon's stunning, full-color illustrations instead of hurrying to the next chapter. And it's clear that "The Doldrums" is not meant to be a breakneck tale of adventure; it is more a meditation on the idea of adventure. As such, it is a dreamy charmer of a book, full of clever wordplay that practically demands it be read out loud. SABAA TAHIR is the author of the novel "An Ember in the Ashes."