A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Blackthorn Key, the opener of a new series by brilliant first-time author Kevin Sands, is an irresistible mix of history (it's set in the England of Charles II), science, staunch friendship, swashbuckling thrills, world saving, and comic misadventure. Besides deadly political intrigue of the day, the plot involves multiple murders, some with brief gory detail; hand-to-hand combat; and a scene in which a villain tortures the protagonist by pouring acid on his skin. Expect many references to pee and poop, often as ingredients in chemical compounds or part of the pre-plumbing, 17th-century local scenery. Heads up: Instructions for making gunpowder and other explosives are part of the story.
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
It's the spring of 1665, and Charles II is on the throne, though none too securely. Closer to home for 14-year-old apprentice Christopher Rowe is the fact that "in the past four months, five men had been butchered in their homes. Each of them had been tied up, tortured, then slit open at the stomach and left to bleed to death." Then his beloved master, apothecary Benedict Blackthorn, becomes the latest victim, leaving Christopher a note in code inscribed "nemini dixeris" ("tell no one" in Latin). Soon Christopher and his best friend Tom are trying to decipher THE BLACKTHORN KEY, solve the murders, and stay alive as they unearth a plot that threatens not only the king but the entire world.
Is it any good?
First-time author Kevin Sands delivers irresistible characters, cool knowledge, intrigue, and lots of explosions as a 17th-century apprentice tries to solve his master's murder. Over the course of this exciting page-turner, readers will learn quite a bit about day-to-day life in 17th-century London, secret messages in code and Latin, and chemistry. Purists might quibble about the occasional anachronism, such as referring to characters "aging out" of an orphanage, but it's for a good cause: making a lot of potentially forbidding knowledge not only accessible but also spellbinding.
Parents be warned: There are definite "kids, don't try this at home" moments. It's nothing they can't find on the Web any day, but The Blackthorn Key includes detailed recipes for explosives, particularly gunpowder and something like nitroglycerin. Some of the compounds are described with archaic names such as "aqua fortis" (nitric acid).
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about stories of kids living in past times. What's the appeal for readers of today? Do you have any favorites?
Do you think life has improved for kids and teens today compared with the experiences of Christopher and his friends? Is there anything about their time you'd like to check out yourself if you had the chance?
What did you know about Oliver Cromwell and his overthrow of the king? Does this story make you want to learn more about that era?
- Author: Kevin Sands
- Genre: Adventure
- Topics: STEM, Adventures, Friendship, Great Boy Role Models, History, Science and Nature
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Aladdin
- Publication date: September 1, 2015
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 10 - 18
- Number of pages: 384
- Available on: Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
- Last updated: December 4, 2020
Our editors recommend
For kids who love adventure and historical fiction
Themes & Topics
Browse titles with similar subject matter.
Top advice and articles
Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.