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Foundling: Book One (Monster Blood Tattoo) by D.M. Cornish
Cover Artist: D.M. Cornish
Review by Drew Bittner
Puffin Paperback  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780142409138
Date: 06 September 2007 List Price $8.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /

Imagine a world where humans share the land and seas with monstrous bogles of all shapes and sizes... where valiant skolds and lahzars and lamplighters struggle to protect cities and settlements... and where a foundling boy with a girl's name can seek out his destiny, overcoming dangerous enemies and misfortune along the way.

You need not imagine it; that's the story of Foundling: Monster Blood Tattoo #1 by D.M. Cornish. In a setting reminiscent of China Mieville and J.K. Rowling, with a hero who would be familiar to Charles Dickens or Gilbert and Sullivan, Cornish launches an exciting, delightful new young adult series.

The unfortunately-named Rossamund Bookchild is a boy who has grown up in Madame Opera's Estimable Marine Society for Foundling Boys and Girls. He is small for his age and bullied relentlessly, but has allies in dormitory master Fransitart and the lovely maid Verline; they offer him assistance and advice, but standing up to the bullies is all on Rossamund's shoulders.

Then comes the day he is chosen by a strange gentleman for a career in the Emperor's service. Mr. Sebastipole (the stranger) offers Rossamund a job as... a lamplighter. Being unaware of the job's demands, except for imagining it involves lighting lamps along a stretch of roadway, Rossamund accepts with little enthusiasm. Fransitart, Verline and the alchemist Craumpalin equip Rossamund for his journey to High Vesting, where he will start his training. As a first step, he is given the name of a boat and ship's captain Sebastipole has paid to take him to High Vesting.

Things go awry and the innocent Rossamund ends up in the clutches of Captain Poundinch, an amiable villain, who intends to keep Rossamund aboard as his new ship's boy. Rossamund proves defiant and ultimately wins free of Poundinch, only to find himself lost in foreign lands and bereft of help. Even his letters of recommendation and paper money are ruined.

Help arrives in the unlikely guise of Europe (aka the Branden Rose), an infamous monster-slayer, and her servant Licurius. Attacked by goblinlike grinnlings, Rossamund is called upon to demonstrate great bravery and resourcefulness in the very worst circumstances.

Meeting the Imperial postman Fouracres, Rossamund learns that lamplighters--far from being dull tenders of wicks and oil--have lives of great adventure and do amazing things to protect human folk from the monsters. Rossamund's spirits perk up; perhaps his destiny isn't so commonplace after all!

Ultimately he reaches High Vesting, but an unlucky re-acquaintance threatens to derail his plans permanently...

Stuffed with engaging characters, an intriguing setting, elegant prose, a well-thought-out explanation for magical abilities, a wealth of new vocabulary, and more, Cornish's work is a treasure. Along with the text, Cornish provides illustrations of many of the characters and monsters encountered, as well as including a large appendix full of useful and interesting information. In short, the book is a real find.

Amid plenty of adventure and danger, Rossamund deals with issues of prejudice, hatred, the inexplicable doings of adults, the loneliness and heartache of orphans, and much more. The book is entirely suitable for young readers but adults will find depths here that will please them as well.

The second volume, Lamplighter, is in print in Cornish's native Australia, and it cannot come to the States any too soon.

Strongly recommended.

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