The Assassin's Curse: Blackthorn Key, Book 3

Book review by
Mary Eisenhart, Common Sense Media
The Assassin's Curse: Blackthorn Key, Book 3 Book Poster Image
Teen heroes spy on court of Louis XIV in gripping volume.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Like the other Blackthorn Key books, The Assassin's Curse has a raft of historical detail and arcane facts (the Knights Templar play a big role). Christopher shares much of his knowledge of chemistry along the way, as well as his talent for solving codes. Since the story's set at the court of Louis XIV of France, there are a lot of French words and phrases, most helpfully translated. Also Latin and a famous classical painting.

Positive Messages

Strong messages about courage, friendship, loyalty, and always striving to do the right thing. Also, a strong respect for knowledge, education, skills, and using your brain.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Harrowing adventures often involve false identities, art thefts, and other normally criminal behavior in the king's service, but teens Christopher, Tom, and Sally, along with faithful pigeon Bridget, rise to the challenge with talent, courage, and sometimes deadly force. A character gives a mortally wounded villain poison to spare her a long, agonizing death; in the past, Templars are slaughtered and burned at the stake. The wisdom of Christopher's late Master Benedict, both potion-brewing and life lessons, comes in handy.  There's much appreciation for everybody's skills and talents, as well as lifesaving teamwork.

Violence

Spooky scenes in a cemetery, complete with skeletons and corpses. Poisoning, swordplay, treachery, mortal combat and other mayhem lurk everywhere, endangering many innocent characters, not all of whom survive. The descriptions are often cartoonish, but vivid: "I'm going to slice you open, and pull out your entrails, until they string a ribbon around this room."

Sex

There's a growing attraction between childhood friends Christopher and Sally, now about 13, but they're mostly occupied with other things. Frequent references to lovers and mistresses at court. 

Language

Occasional mentions of butts, bottoms, crotches, and the like.

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Wine is served at banquets. Poisoned wine does in one character, brandy is served to others. 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Kevin SandsThe Assassin's Curse, the latest installment in the Blackthorn Key series, is packed with history, science, French, Latin, and other interesting bits of knowledge. The story finds England's King Charles II, newly restored to the throne, sending young apothecary Christopher, his friend Tom the baker's son, orphanage pal Sally, and talented pigeon Bridget to France to stop a would-be murderer. There's death by poison, sword, wasp attack, burning at the stake, impalement on rock formations, and more, plus plenty of swordplay, hand-to-hand combat, and treacherous mayhem. The friends show a lot of courage, creativity, and teamwork as they face some of history's greatest challenges -- including the really nasty ones due to no plumbing and the resulting sewage in walkways -- and try to stay alive. There's a bit of budding romance between the 13-year-old protagonists, and references to lovers and mistresses in the intrigue-ridden court.

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What's the story?

What is THE ASSASSIN'S CURSE -- and who are the shadowy figures hell-bent on wiping out the royal family of France? Seventeenth-century English teens Christopher, Tom, and Sally and the brave pigeon Bridget, tasked by Charles II himself, are soon on their way to the court of Louis XIV to find out. It all seems to have something to do with the Knights Templar. And a famous painting. Also a poem written in cipher. Our heroes face many dire perils en route to a conclusion that suggests their troubles are just beginning.

Is it any good?

Author Kevin Sands delivers another harrowing, hilarious, heartrending page-turner set in the 17th century, this time with his teen protagonists sent to spy on the court of Louis XIV. The Assassin's Curse delivers a bit about deciphering codes, the history of the Knights Templar, and just the right chemicals for dissolving gold. There's lots of historic detail, suspenseful intrigue, and opportunity to cheer the appealing heroes -- who need all the help they can get.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about The Assassin's Curse as historical fiction. Do you think it makes history more relatable if you can see it through the eyes of a fictional character, or would you rather stick to the facts?

  • If your family originally spoke a language other than English (like Sally's family in the story), and then started speaking English, do you still speak the original language, or have you forgotten it?

  • Do you think cemeteries are really interesting, or just creepy?

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