Oh my gosh, every now and then a library run will uncover a book that's just so very, very good and we're so grateful we found (even though perhaps we're a few years late discovering it!).
This book is just excellent, a real roller-coaster thriller-murder mystery, but set in Renaissance times (1665) in an apothecary's shop.
Christopher Rowe is an apothecary's apprentice in the Blackthorn shop, run by the kind and patient Master Benedict Blackthorn. Apothecaries are turning up dead, murdered by the mysterious Cult of the Archangel, and attracting the investigative interest of the unflappable and unstoppable King's agent, Lord Ashcrombe.
Then Master Benedict is killed. Suddenly set adrift, and with terrible memories of his Master's last, uncharacteristic public beating and shaming, Christopher doesn't know where to turn. He has a friend in a local baker's son, Tom, but quickly overstays his welcome when Lord Ashcrombe comes looking for him, to question him.
Lord Ashcrombe finally catches up to Christoper in the shop, and that's when Christopher notices the last page in the ledger where his Master wrote -- something. He tears the page out to hide it from the prosecutor. It's in code, but a code he's never seen his Master write in before.
From this point forward, in typical thriller genre style, it's a race to decipher the code, figure out why Master Benedict was killed, and who else wants the secret recipe to the legendary Archangel's Fire, or God's primordial power.
And whoever gets it will rule the world!
Awesome read. This will get read over and over, and is well worth putting under the tree this holiday season!
If you loved the first one, you're going to eat up the second book. Rarely does an author maintain the same kind of momentum and suspense of a first book, so my expectations for seconds and thirds tends to dip somewhat, but this was ASTOUNDINGLY great! My daughter and I loved it.
This time, Christopher must thwart a con on the city that threatens to kill thousands for cold, hard gold.
The plague returns to London, and with it -- con artists, selling their nefarious "cures." Amidst it all, Christopher and Tom note an apothecary, calling out the obvious frauds hawking their questionable cures at the market, but claiming to have his own sure-fire cure, and a mysterious "plague doctor," complete with bird's beak costume, who does the exact opposite of what you'd expect a plague doctor to do. He predicts infection, calling out who will die with chilling accuracy.
And he predicts for a crowd that someone close to Christopher will die. That can only mean one person -- Tom.
But as a savvy reader, you've learned you don't learn all Christopher is thinking. The wheels and cogs and gears in his brain are spinning, even when you don't see them on the page, and the pieces begin to fall into place.
Magistrates die in startling succession. The apothecary with the sure-fire cure offers it to a Magistrate with a sick daughter, where the Plague doctor predicted death. The girl is cured, and the city's coffers open with alarming speed for the new apothecary to make this "cure" -- first in Blackthorn, with Tom of all people acting as the apothecary's grinder and mixer, and later in a secret warehouse.
If I write any more, I'll spoil it, and I won't! You'll enjoy how all the elements come together in an amazing plot that mercilessly takes advantage of London's poorest and sickest at its weakest moment.
And only Christopher, Tom and now Sally (from the same orphanage as Christopher) stand between widespread death and salvation.
An awesome read!
In this third book, the author takes Christopher, Tom and Sally out of London and the Blackthorn Apothecary to Paris, France, to foil a plot to kill the French King and his wife and family.
The boys are pulled by Lord Ashcrombe to the English King's palace one night, so the King can express his "appreciation" for their efforts exposing the Plague con and recovering the city's money for the poor and inflicted.
But in typical Christopher fashion, he follows his nose, finds a dead wine taster, and heads down a set of stairs to encounter a poisoner who gets the better of him with a cord around his neck. When Tom gets him free, he has no voice and is forced to save the King by throwing a bottle, shattering the King's wine glass. For this, he and Tom and Sally earn not the King's wrath, but rather an assignment to track down the poisoner -- in the French court!
Because Lord Ashcrombe is able to decipher the last bit of code on a message the poisoner left behind, showing the plot isn't really to kill the King of England, but rather his sister, the wife of the French King.
But to get into the French court, Christopher must impersonate Lord Ashcrombe's nephew (with his Lord's permission, of course) and Tom is his "man." He's quite awful at impersonating nobility, and it quickly found out by a man who knew and loved his former master. Sally infiltrates the court as a minor Lady, and inadvertently cozies up to the absolute wrong noblewoman.
Meanwhile, Christopher and Tom are trying to head off the poisoner by finding the poisoner's objective before he can -- an ancient treasure, hidden from the French King centuries ago, by the Order of the Templars.
This is another fantastically plotted thriller, that leaves you guessing right up to the very end. No, I'm not spoiling the ending. Read it for yourself and enjoy! I couldn't put this one down and my daughter ate it up.
A fantastic, roller coaster ride of a read!
And this fourth book in the series so far lays the groundwork for another book (which I sincerely hope reveals the Raven!). It's the slowest starting of the four, but it's a nice change of pace, and is in fact caused by what the author does to Christopher -- throws him overboard on the ship ride back to England from his mission in France and washes him up on the English shore suffering from amnesia.
In his quest to figure out who he is, Christopher is thrown into a plot by a local, greedy lord to sell the village's children to Barbary pirates as slaves. But I get ahead of the story.
Christopher wakes up warm and in the presence of small waif, a girl hiding under the covers in the same room. He recognizes witch's marks on the linte, warding off evil spirits, and still retains his apothecary's knowledge and training -- but he doesn't know who he is.
He's dressed as a Lord with lots of gold in his purse, which the farmer who discovered him and called the local healer woman to care for him during his illness, dutifully returns to him. And he hears a voice in his mind, one he can't identify -- but he desperately wants to.
The farmer tells him of the legend of the White Lady, who's supposedly stealing the village's children and making them vanish. Five are missing, so far. At the same time, this frightened girl shows up, half-frozen to death, speaking gibberish or at least, not English at all.
Christopher's friends, Tom and Sally, finally find him, but he has only snippets of his memories of them. The strange girl latches onto Tom and his sword like a drowning sailor to a life vest.
They approach the local witch, who tells Christopher he's the only one who can solve the mystery of the missing children and the White Lady, but not for the reasons Christopher thinks. And when they approach the local Baron for help, they soon realized they've stepped out of the fry pan and into the fire.
It's up to Christopher and his friends to save the children, regain his memories, and stop a pirate invasion of the village. With a little help from dear old Uncle Ashcrombe. (Hint, hint, wink, wink).
We loved this book, and like I said at the top, there's a fifth in the works and we hope it reveals who's the Raven (intimated from Book 3 and this one), Christopher's greatest nemesis!
This series makes for a fantastic set of books to put under the tree or gift to an advanced middle grade reader this holiday season!