Thursday, June 24, 2010

Monster Blood Tattoo (The Foundling #1) by D.M. Cornish

Rossamund is an orphan, or foundling, and was found with a girls name pinned to his basket. He dreams of adventures and conquests on the high seas but is never chosen to join the navy like so many other foundlings were. When the time comes for him to leave the orphanage, he sets out to begin his new employment as Lamplighter under the Emperor of the Half-Continent. From the onset his journey does not go according to plan; he is beset by the dreaded monsters of the land, he somehow ends up on a ship with smugglers, and unexpectedly resumes his journey with Europe - the most feared monster slayer in the land.

Monster Blood Tattoo is . . . well it's just so many things. I had heard that this was one of those Really Popular Everywhere But The U.S. kinds of books, which I guess is true. I have multiple conflicting thoughts about this book though. I even have mixed feelings ABOUT my conflicting thoughts, so you can imagine how confused I am right now.

First, the title. It's a mouth full. And it sounds kind of stupid; like a compilation of a few words that sound exciting and dangerous and manly to appeal to youth who want a great rush of a read. Then I discovered that monster slayers get tattoos made from the blood of monsters they kill, so now the title makes a bit more sense. Though the concept is pretty foul.

Moving on to the story. At first I was like, Oh great - another book about an orphan kid who will be shoved into some magical realm and have Coming Of Age Adventures and discover that he really is Special yada yada yada. Which is partially true, actually. My problem is that the story never really picked up, nor was I ever totally sucked in. The pace seems to trudge along until it just ENDS. And it ends right where I initially thought his adventure was supposed to begin. And THEN the last third of the book, no joke, is glossary. Definitions of terms and explanations of creatures/places/events barely mentioned in the book. Incidentally, I love appendices and things so this turned out to be a nice surprise after my WTH? moment with the end.

Rossamund is a nice little hero, which I mean quite literally, as he is both kind-hearted and young. He certainly is no warrior, and to his own amazement finds that instead of reveling over the death of monsters like he was taught, he feels compassion and sympathy for them. People also feel at ease around Rossamund and seem to open up to him. His blend of goodness, determination, kindness and curiosity make for a refreshing young male character that I definitely want to root for.

The secondary characters, while intriguing and curious, seem half-formed. I'm guessing that it's because there's supposed to be mystery looming around them and what they know of Rossamund's origins. Still, I felt I didn't know anyone but Rossamund by the end. Europe, who is cold, moody and totally disagreeable, seems like she has potential to be complex and rife with baggage from her mysterious past. Guess I'll have to read The Lamplighter to find out.

Lastly, the setting. Let it not be said that I didn't give Cornish his due praise for the world he created; Half-Continent is incredible. Imagine ancient Greece/Carthage/China marrying Industrial Age London and having a surprisingly attractive baby called Half-Continent. Sounds overwhelming but it's a mish-mash that totally works and works well. There are all sorts of strange creatures and monsters and humans that are unique to this world, but it never feels overtly fantasy. It's more strange and almost steam-punk than anything.

His ability to use language is also impressive. He has creative made-up words and names, but he also manipulates the English language with skill and precision - all the while making it look effortless. (It wasn't effortless apparently, since according to the back flap Cornish was working on this for thirteen years.)

Conclusion: Monster Blood Tattoo rivals Tolkien's Middle Earth world with its in-depth fictional history, languages and cultures. The pictures (also done by the author) give nice visual flavor to the setting and characters. The audience is Juvenile/YA, as Rossamund is around fourteen, though it could possibly strain the attention span of that age audience. I would recommend it to anyone who liked Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings and likes detailed imagined worlds. It's unlike anything I've ever read before.

Book source: Local library.

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