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The Foundling's Tale, Part Three: Factotum by D.M. Cornish
Review by Drew Bittner
Putnam Juvenile Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780399246401
Date: 11 November 2010 List Price $19.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /

Let's get this out of the way right up front. This is not only D.M. Cornish's best book, this is easily one of the best books of 2010.

In Factotum, the final installment of the renamed Foundling's Tale trilogy (formerly Monster-Blood Tattoo), Rossamund Bookchild now serves the famous teratologist (monster hunter) Europe, aka the Branden Rose. Fleeing from the enemies made during his brief stint as a lamplighter, Rossamund believes that he can find sanctuary in the mighty city of Brandenbrass.

How little he knows.

A dark secret has come to light, one that pursues Rossamund and Europe across the face of the Half-Continent. Rossamund's former masters, Fransitart and Craumpalin, know the truth but are reluctant to divulge what they know; only the threat of great danger to all persuades them to share. And the truth is a devastating one, particularly to Rossamund.

More by D.M. Cornish:
Foundling's Tale:
* Foundling
* Lamplighter
* Factotum

Europe begins making plans, only to find that her cousin the Archduke has already heard rumors. This pulls the fearsome warrior-woman into unwelcome territory--the halls of the great and mighty of Brandenbrass--even as scandal-mongers peddle tales that are a bit too close for comfort.

During his stay in Brandenbrass, Rossamund courts danger of his own by attending a very private sporting event (of a sort) and wreaking havoc in spite of himself. After an encounter with a secret and singularly powerful denizen of the city, Rossamund and Europe consider it might be best were they to go out into the world and hunt monsters.

But in the wilds, monsters are far from the only danger...

With a single hunt to their credit, the small group heads for home, only to encounter a terrifying attack. They take refuge with a secluded band of free-thinkers and iconoclasts, who teach Rossamund a thing or two about life and the meaning (and cost) of freedom. But soon enough, they must return to Brandenbrass, where even greater dangers await--and a final reckoning must be had. When one crosses the Branden Rose, there are always consequences.

Cornish brings his epic fantasy to a rousing conclusion in this volume. Eager readers have had to wait a considerable time between this and Lamplighter, the previous installment, but the wait was worth it.

Rossamund has grown over the course of three books from a bullied and somewhat dreamy child to a decisive, heroic young man. He has survived much of the worst his world has to offer, made friends, and discovered the answer to the fundamental question of his life.

The core relationship of the trilogy--his complex connection to Europe--is explored with great deftness and sensitivity. Cornish refrains wisely from spelling out their feelings, but actions speak louder than words; taken from that perspective, it cannot be unclear how Europe feels about Rossamund by the time this story ends. She's grown as well, displaying greater depth and shadings than her first appearance might have suggested; in many ways, she may be Cornish's greatest creation.

That is not to slight the Half-Continent itself. It is a wondrous setting, full of mysteries and discoveries to confound an army of explorers. A setting as rich and well-realized as this cannot be limited only to three novels, no matter how good they may be. This is a master class in world building, and aspiring (and professional) writers should take note that this is how it is done. Working through a distinct and elaborate vocabulary, it is clear that Cornish loves words like few others, and uses them to paint another world that feels both fresh and thoroughly lived-in.

This is brilliant work, full of amazing characters and high adventure, with stakes that only grow from page to page. It is certain to be a series treasured by readers of all ages, no matter where it is placed in the local bookstore.

In short, if you love the highest quality in genre fiction, you must read this series.

Highest recommendation.

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