A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Mark of the Plague is physicist-turned-author Kevin Sands' follow-up to the much-honored The Blackthorn Key, with its teen protagonists facing new dangers and struggling to solve new mysteries in 1665 London. One mystery: Who is this stranger who seems to be able to cure the bubonic plague that's ravaging the city -- and what's in his medicine? Another: Where (and what) is the mysterious treasure left to 14-year-old Christopher by his late master? As the plot unfolds against a backdrop of the black plague's devastation, the teens suffer beatings, stabbings, poisonings, and more in their efforts to discover and unmask a murderer. Like in Book 1, Mark of the Plague delivers swashbuckling adventure, brain-teasing puzzles, several explosions, and assorted gun-brandishing and sword-wielding. As in Book 1, the narrator gives the recipe for gunpowder. Pee and poop abound, sometimes as part of the pre-plumbing scenery and sometimes as a chemical ingredient. Some characters die, and there are brief gory descriptions of injuries and plague symptoms as well as dead bodies. Also as in Book 1, this installment has a strong moral compass, with frequent but non-preachy messages about friendship, loyalty, kindness, using your brain, and doing the right thing even when you're being strongly pressured to do the wrong one.
What's the story?
THE MARK OF THE PLAGUE follows the events of Book 1, and 14-year-old Christopher Rowe should be enjoying a happy and prosperous life in the London apothecary shop left to him by his murdered master, Benedict Blackthorn. But 1665 London is now in the throes of an epidemic that kills thousands each day -- and brings a horde of charlatans and predators exploiting the people's fear with pricey fake cures and "magic" charms. Impoverished Christopher learns that his late master has left him a "treasure" -- and only the most mysterious hints about where to find it. With people suffering and dying all around them, Christopher and his best friend Tom, along with fellow orphanage alum Sally and the faithful pigeon Bridget, race to find the treasure and the truth -- which is hard, when almost nothing and no one are what they seem, and the plague can strike anyone. Swordplay, explosions, mob violence, and other deadly perils ensue as the friends try to identify the villains, foil them, and not die in the attempt.
Is it any good?
Kevin Sands delivers a thrilling sequel with appealing teen (and bird) heroes, creepy villains, challenging puzzles, and plenty of mortal danger. It's easy to root for apothecary-in-training Christopher and his friends as they try to solve mysterious puzzles, decipher coded messages, and stop murderous villains as The Mark of the Plague falls upon its luckless victims. Sands' vivid descriptions plunge the reader into the often-scary world of London in 1665 -- and offer a lot of humor when, say, a lab experiment doesn't exactly go as planned.
As in the first book, there's the occasional too-modern howler -- in this case, numerous references to "paranoia." But it doesn't break the spell as the young heroes pursue truth, justice, and a cure for a horrible disease.
Talk to your kids about ...
Many fictional stories take place in the time of the Black Death or other epidemics. Stories such as Mark of the Plague show how such times bring out the best and worst in people. Do you know any other examples?
Do you like codes and ciphers? How would you make up a code that was easy to understand for everybody in the know -- and completely impossible for everyone else?
Does reading about Christopher's adventures in the lab make you want to do chemistry experiments? What would you like to try first?
- Author: Kevin Sands
- Genre: Mystery
- Topics: Adventures, Friendship, Great Boy Role Models, Great Girl Role Models, History, Science and Nature
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Aladdin
- Publication date: September 6, 2016
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 10 - 14
- Number of pages: 544
- Available on: Nook, Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
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