The Blackthorn Key by Kevin Sands

In 1665, Christopher Rowe is an orphan and apprentice to Master Benedict Blackthorn, one of London’s many apothecaries and a kind and generous master to boot. However, when a secretive cult of murderous men begins to pick off the apothecaries Of London one by one, Christopher and his friend Tom, the baker’s son, must depend on one another and their wits to save themselves from becoming the next victims.

NOTICE: MY REVIEW MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS, DEPENDING ON WHAT YOU CONSIDER A SPOILER.

I really enjoyed this tale of adventure and derring-do right up to the climax of the story when Christopher and Tom discover that the murderers, and Master Blackthorn and pretty much everyone else in the story are all after the same thing: the formula for the Archangel’s Fire, a powerful alchemic concoction that will enable its finder to rule the world! (Insert manic laughter.) At that point the story became a little too Raiders-of-the-Lost-Ark for me: trivializing holy things while using them as a magical MacGuffin.

The denouement is fairly satisfying, perhaps leaving room for a sequel. The trouble is that I’m not sure I want a sequel, even though I enjoyed the novel itself. I guess I just didn’t like the idea of the Archangel’s Fire, a powerful and explosive manifestation of “God’s power unchecked”, as originally (supposedly) given to the Archangel Michael. Maybe it’s a matter of personal taste.

And I didn’t much like the revelation of who the main villain was either. The book takes place in the seventeenth century: Puritans and Cavaliers, Royalists and Roundheads. Which group do you think the villain belongs to, of course? I’m just sort of tired of rabid Puritan villains. Wouldn’t it be a change to have a villain from the other side?

Anyway, I’m sounding as if I didn’t like this story, and I actually enjoyed it a lot. Go back to the first paragraph, and if the premise sounds interesting, you should check it out.

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