What would Harry Potter have done without Dumbledore? Without the Weasleys or Hagrid? What if he had simply been given a knapsack, some potions, a few kind words and then summarily sent off into the abyss? Harry would have peed his pants, that’s what.
It is almost irresistible to compare D. M. Cornish’s first book in his Monster Blood Tattoo series to Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings, but to do that is a bit too dismissive. This book can certainly stand on its own merit. The illustrations (also done by the author) and the extensive glossary contained at the end of the book are nothing short of astounding. “Foundling” is Dickensian in scope and written with the same blend of humor and pathos as old Charles’ canon. I could continue to gush, but that would only delay me from attacking the next two books in the series which are currently stacked on my bedside table.
Rossamund, an orphaned boy with an unfortunately female name, has spent his entire life at Madam Opera’s Estimable Marine Society for Foundling Boys & Girls preparing himself for a life of service, presumably in the navy. A favorite of some of the staff at the orphanage, Rossamund’s protected existence in the institution isn’t any more horrible than the average primary school, but he is anxious to begin his work outside and fears that he will never get the call.
When a stranger arrives and offers Rossamund the position of Lamplighter, he is disappointed in what he thinks will be a mundane life of lighting lamps on the highway and longs for the romantic life of the vinegaroons (sailors) or monster hunters that he has read about. On a foggy morning, because all such mornings should be foggy, he sets off with his instructions to meet with a sea-captain who will take him on the first leg of his journey to his new home and occupation. In a world where encountering monsters both literal and figurative can be a daily occurrence, Rossamund’s journey easily swerves off course. Outside Madam Opera’s, he sees the world for the first time and receives his hard knock education from pirates, humans medically altered to harness and manipulate electricity and to sense things beyond normal human capacity in order to hunt down monsters, and a brave postman who dodges all kinds of dangers to deliver the mail (take that, USPS).
All of the characters are richly drawn and deliciously conflicted. Most of them find themselves terribly protective of Rossamund, a tender but fearlessly loyal boy whose mysterious origins hint of great things to come. Easily one of the best of the almost (gulp) 52 books that I have read this year.