Monster-Blood Tattoo: Book 1: Foundling by D.M. Cornish

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(Ages 11+) When Rossamund leaves his home, Madam Opera's Estimable Marine Society for Foundling Boys and Girls, ready to travel alone to High Vesting where he will begin his apprenticeship as a Lamplighter, he can have little idea of what will befall him. He lives in the Half Continent, where monsters have lived for centuries, ready to trap the unwary, looking in some cases like humans, but often strangely disfigured. Told to meet the captain of the cromster upon the Humour, he is taken aboard by Poundinch whose trade is of a type never spoken of, but Rossamund, coming across crates in the hold that feel warm, realises that he is aboard the wrong boat and is in mortal danger.

Jumping from the boat in the night, he cowers in some shrubbery for cover and is eventually saved by a lady and her driver, and accompanies them on their journey. He realises that she is a fulgar, a monster slayer, and becomes involved in a fight to the death with a group of grinnlings, after she has killed their friend, the ettin. Wounded, the lady Europe becomes dangerously ill, and Rossamund follows her instructions making a draught which will revive her. But the inn in which they are staying does not want such people staying there, so trouble ensues.

Confronted with the phenomenal range of creatures which inhabit this land, from the small Freckle, to the nasty grinnlings and the strange ettin, or humans who are twisted like Poundinch, Rossamund must use his skills learnt at the Society to good use, and not judge those he meets at first sight.
The background of this story took eleven years to develop and it shows. Not one word is out of place; all the creatures have histories and descriptions which are finely crafted to meld with the others. Each has a position in the story. Lovers of fantasy will gobble up this book, feeling at one with the courageous Rossamund as he finds his way in life, cheering with him as he overcomes the most appalling of difficulties, and shedding a tear when things happen which are out of his control. Coming across people with tattoos made up of the blood of the monster they have killed, gives the reader a frisson of excitement, as Rossamund and the reader foresee where the story may be going.

Students aged 11-14 will love this highly original fantasy, the first in a trilogy called Monster-Blood Tattoo.
Fran Knight