The Blackthorn Key by Kevin SandsThe Blackthorn Key by Kevin Sands

The Blackthorn Key

byKevin Sands

Paperback | May 3, 2016

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Following a series of murders, an apothecary’s apprentice must solve puzzles and decipher codes in pursuit of a secret that could destroy the world in this “spectacular debut” (Kirkus Reviews, starred review).

“Tell no one what I’ve given you.”

Until he got that cryptic warning, Christopher Rowe was happy, learning how to solve complex codes and puzzles and creating powerful medicines, potions, and weapons as an apprentice to Master Benedict Blackthorn—with maybe an explosion or two along the way.

But when a mysterious cult begins to prey on London’s apothecaries, the trail of murders grows closer and closer to Blackthorn’s shop. With time running out, Christopher must use every skill he’s learned to discover the key to a terrible secret with the power to tear the world apart.

In his stunning debut novel, Kevin Sands brings readers on a heart-stopping adventure rich with suspense, mystery, and unforgettable characters.
Title:The Blackthorn KeyFormat:PaperbackProduct dimensions:400 pages, 7.62 × 5.12 × 1 inShipping dimensions:7.62 × 5.12 × 1 inPublished:May 3, 2016Publisher:AladdinLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:1481446525

ISBN - 13:9781481446525

Appropriate for ages: 10

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Rated 4 out of 5 by from I loved this book he blackthorn key is a very good and interesting book. It like shows you your future it is a very inspiring book. In this book Christopher and tom goes on adventures and have fun together until a secret gang try to prey over london by kidnapping and capturing people. Christopher and tom never knew about that so they enjoyed themselves. Until they had to know what was done. That is like a summary of the book. In this book a lot of interesting and funny things happen. The author that created black thorn key is Kevin Sands. That is what I have to say about the Blackthorn key.
Date published: 2018-09-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Marvellous book Fascinating read, there were some interesting plot twists which I did not expect. I loved how unpredictable and enticing the plot was. The writing style is intriguing and I can't wait to read the third one in the series.
Date published: 2018-07-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from great read I explained this book to a friend as: imagine the DaVinci code written for teenagers set in the 1600s. Enjoy the codes and the quick paced story. My 12 year old son read it first, then I did then I passed it to a friend; we all loved it and quickly read the series.
Date published: 2018-04-27
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Interesting plot ... Well written, interesting plot that keeps the reader hooked!
Date published: 2018-02-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A New Favourite! Fast-paced, entertaining characters, and a captivating story line. The Blackthorn Key has become one of my favourite books. Although it is placed in the "Young Readers" category, it is dark enough that older readers could enjoy it as well. Definitely cannot wait to read the next ones!
Date published: 2018-01-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I LOVED THIS BOOK!!! The blackthorn key was really well written and a great story. There's unexpected twists.I cant wait to read the next book.
Date published: 2018-01-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Such a great book! I saw this on a shelf at the store one day and just had to read it! Once I started I was pulled right in and could not put it down, it was such a thrilling read that I can't wait to read it again!
Date published: 2017-11-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Amazing! I picked this book as my ISU novel in school. Ended up finishing the whole book. It was a great novel. I really enjoyed the puzzles and cliffhangers in each chapter. I highly recommend.
Date published: 2017-06-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Historical Novel This book was really good and detailed. I loved decoding the codes too. Great for Harry spotter fans! #plumreview
Date published: 2017-04-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great probably one of my all time favorite books it has puzzles and riddles and codes that are just amazing and intriguing i couldn't put it down
Date published: 2017-03-24
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Entertaining and well-written but needs more diversity THE BLACKTHORN KEY is a well-written, entertaining novel that is great for both introducing readers to science and puzzles but also to history and myths. Kids love to learn but not every child does well in a classroom setting, so I think this book works well as an alternative. It's also a very good book for getting kids into reading. I liked the main character but I didn't love him. I think the book could have used a bit more diversity in its cast. The main characters are all young, white boys - the group with the most representation in children's lit. It'd be amazing for non-white, non-male readers to be able to see themselves in such an entertaining novel. I'll be continuing the series but I hope to see more diversity. I was of course fully captivated by the plot! If the lack of diversity continues, I won't be satisfied with the excuse of "historical accuracy", considering this book has a 12 year old solving a string of murders, with Greek fire (a myth) at the centre of it all. At least add a girl to the main cast.
Date published: 2017-02-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Great Book! This book is great! Christopher and Tom are loveable characters that you are instantly protective of. The fear that is felt across London come across palpably. The story has non-stop action, adventure, mystery, accurate historical setting, puzzles without making reading difficult, and all of this together makes a fantastic book that will keep readers turning the pages. The solution to the mystery is a good, surprising twist. I highly recommended you read this book!
Date published: 2017-01-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from This was great! A really excellent novel. Magical and interesting with lots of adventure. Super excited for the next book by Kevin Sands!
Date published: 2017-01-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Yes!! Read it! I really loved this book!! If you're a fan of Harry Potter you'll enjoy. I can't wait to read Mark of the Plague now!
Date published: 2017-01-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Loved it! I'm not a YA reader, but I loved this book. Kevin Sands has written a story that will appeal to everyone. Now I can't wait to read the next book, Mark of the Plague.
Date published: 2016-11-10
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Enjoyed this I got this for my son, he really enjoyed it... He loved the codes that are found throughout the book
Date published: 2016-08-26

Read from the Book

The Blackthorn Key CHAPTER 1 “LET’S BUILD A CANNON,” I said. Tom wasn’t listening. He was deep in concentration, tongue pinched between his teeth, as he steeled himself for combat with the stuffed black bear that ruled the front corner of my master’s shop. Tom stripped off his linen shirt and flung it heroically across the antimony cups gleaming on the display table near the fire. From the oak shelf nearest to him, he snatched the glazed lid of an apothecary jar—Blackthorn’s Wart-Be-Gone, according to the scrawl on the label—and held it on guard, a miniature ceramic shield. In his right hand, the rolling pin wobbled threateningly. Tom Bailey, son of William the Baker, was the finest fake soldier I’d ever seen. Though only two months older than me, he was already a foot taller, and built like a blacksmith, albeit a slightly pudgy one, due to a steady pilfering of his father’s pies. And in the safety of my master’s shop, away from the horrors of battle like death, pain, or even a mild scolding, Tom’s courage held no equal. He glared at the inanimate bear. The floorboards creaked as he stepped within range of its wickedly curved claws. Tom shoved the curio cabinet aside, making the brass balances jingle. Then he hoisted his flour-dusted club in salute. The frozen beast roared back silently, inch-long teeth promising death. Or several minutes of tedious polishing, at least. I sat on the counter at the back, legs dangling, and clicked leather heels against the carved cedar. I could be patient. You had to be, sometimes, with Tom, whose mind worked as it pleased. “Think you can steal my sheep, Mr. Bear?” he said. “I’ll give you no quarter this day.” Suddenly, he stopped, rolling pin held outward in midlunge. I could almost see the clockwork cranking between his ears. “Wait. What?” He looked back at me, puzzled. “What did you say?” “Let’s build a cannon,” I said. “What does that mean?” “Just what you think it means. You and me. Build a cannon. You know.” I spread my hands. “Boom?” Tom frowned. “We can’t do that.” “Why not?” “Because people can’t just build cannons, Christopher.” He said it like he was explaining why you shouldn’t eat fire to a small, dull child. “But that’s where cannons come from,” I said. “People build them. You think God sends cannons down from heaven for Lent?” “You know what I mean.” I folded my arms. “I don’t understand why you’re not more excited about this.” “Maybe that’s because you’re never the one on the pointy end of your schemes.” “What schemes? I don’t have any schemes.” “I spent all night throwing up that ‘strength potion’ you invented,” he said. He did look a little dark under the eyes today. “Ah. Yes. Sorry.” I winced. “I think I put in too much black snail. It needed less snail.” “What it needed was less Tom.” “Don’t be such a baby,” I said. “Vomiting is good for you, anyway. It balances the humors.” “I like my humors the way they are,” he said. “But I have a recipe this time.” I grabbed the parchment I’d leaned against the coin scales on the countertop and waved it at him. “A real one. From Master Benedict.” “How can a cannon have a recipe?” “Not the whole cannon. Just the gunpowder.” Tom got very still. He scanned the jars around him, as if among the hundreds of potions, herbs, and powders that ringed the shop was a remedy that would somehow get him out of this. “That’s illegal.” “Knowing a recipe isn’t illegal,” I said. “Making it is.” That was true. Only masters, and only those with a royal charter, were allowed to mix gunpowder. I was a long way from either. “And Lord Ashcombe is on the streets today,” Tom said. Now that made me pause. “You saw him?” Tom nodded. “On Cheapside, after church. He had two of the King’s Men with him.” “What’d he look like?” “Mean.” “Mean” was exactly what I’d imagined. Lord Richard Ashcombe, Baron of Chillingham, was King Charles’s loyal general, and His Majesty’s Warden here in London. He was in the city hunting for a pack of killers. In the past four months, five men had been butchered in their homes. Each of them had been tied up, tortured, then slit open at the stomach and left to bleed to death. Three of the victims had been apothecaries, a fact that had me seeing assassins in the shadows every night. No one was sure what the killers wanted, but sending in Lord Ashcombe meant the king was serious about stopping them. Lord Ashcombe had a reputation for getting rid of men hostile to the Crown—usually by sticking their heads on pikes in the public square. Still, we didn’t need to be that cautious. “Lord Ashcombe’s not coming here,” I said, as much to myself as to Tom. “We haven’t killed anyone. And the King’s Warden isn’t likely to stop by for a suppository, is he?” “What about your master?” Tom said. “He doesn’t need a suppository.” Tom made a face. “I mean, isn’t he coming back? It’s getting close to dinnertime.” He said “dinnertime” with a certain wistfulness. “Master Benedict just bought the new edition of Culpeper’s herbal,” I said. “He’s at the coffeehouse with Hugh. They’ll be gone for ages.” Tom pressed his ceramic shield to his chest. “This is a bad idea.” I hopped down from the counter and grinned. • • • To be an apothecary, you must understand this: The recipe is everything. It isn’t like baking a cake. The potions, creams, jellies, and powders Master Benedict made—with my help—required an incredibly delicate touch. A spoonful too little niter, a pinch too much aniseed, and your brilliant new remedy for dropsy would congeal instead into worthless green goo. But new recipes didn’t fall from the sky. You had to discover them. This took weeks, months, even years of hard work. It cost a fortune, too: ingredients, apparatus, coal to stoke the fire, ice to chill the bath. Most of all, it was dangerous. Blazing fires. Molten metals. Elixirs that smelled sweet but ate away your insides. Tinctures that looked as harmless as water but threw off deadly, invisible fumes. With each new experiment, you gambled with your life. So a working formula was better than gold. If you could read it. ?M08? 02160911101825261310092611221315240322132410220710092611221315141607011613010417261122131514142207151126152613021304092514261122132215260720080419 Tom scratched his cheek. “I thought there’d be more words and things.” “It’s in code,” I said. He sighed. “Why is it always in code?” “Because other apothecaries will do anything to steal your secrets. When I have my own shop,” I said proudly, “I’m putting everything in code. No one’s going to swipe my recipes.” “No one will want your recipes. Except poisoners, I suppose.” “I said I was sorry.” “Maybe this is in code,” Tom said, “because Master Benedict doesn’t want anyone to read it. And by ‘anyone,’ I mean you.” “He teaches me new ciphers every week.” “Did he teach you this one?” “I’m sure he’d planned to.” “Christopher.” “But I figured it out. Look.” I pointed at the notation ?M08?. “It’s a substitution cipher. Every two numbers stand for one letter. This tells you how to swap them. Start with ‘08,’ and replace it with M. Then count forward. So 08 is M, 09 is N, and so on. Like this.” I showed him the table I’d worked out. A 20 B 21 C 22 D 23 E 01 F 02 G 03 H 04 I 05 K 06 L 07 M 08 N 09 O 10 P 11 Q 12 R 13 S 14 T 15 V 16 X 17 Y 18 Z 19 Tom looked between the cipher and the block of numbers at the top of the page. “So if you replace the numbers with the right letters . . .” “. . . You get your message.” I flipped the parchment over to show the translation I’d inked on the back. Gunpowder One part charcoal. One part sulfur. Five parts saltpeter. Grind separately. Mix. Which is what we did. We set up on the larger display table, farther from the fireplace, based on Tom’s reasonable suggestion that gunpowder and flames weren’t friends. Tom moved the bleeding spoons from the table and got the mortars and pestles from the window near the bear while I pulled the ingredient jars from the shelves. I ground the charcoal. Sooty clouds puffed into the air, mixing with the earthy scent of the dried roots and herbs hanging from the rafters. Tom, glancing uneasily at the front door for any sign of my master, took care of the saltpeter, crushing the crystals that looked just like ordinary table salt. The sulfur was already a fine yellow powder, so while Tom swirled the ingredients together, I got a length of brass pipe sealed at one end from the workshop in the back. I used a nail to widen a hole near the sealed end. Into that, I slipped a loop of woven, ash-colored cord. Tom raised his eyebrows. “Master Benedict keeps cannon fuse?” “We use it to light things from far away,” I said. “You know,” Tom said, “things you have to light from far away probably shouldn’t be lit at all.” The mixture we ended up with looked harmless, just a fine black powder. Tom poured it into the open end while I propped up the pipe. A narrow stream spilled over the side, scattering charcoal grains onto the floor. I stamped the powder in the tube down with cotton wadding. “What are we going to use for a cannonball?” Tom said. Master Benedict didn’t keep anything in the store that would fit snugly in the pipe. The best I could come up with was a handful of lead shot we used for shavings to put in our remedies. They scraped down the brass and landed with a hollow thump on the cotton at the bottom. Now we needed a target, and soon. It had taken a lot longer to put everything together than I thought it would, and though I’d assured Tom that my master wouldn’t return, his comings and goings weren’t exactly predictable. “We’re not firing this thing outside,” Tom said. He was right about that. The neighbors would not look kindly on lead shot flying through their parlors. And as tempting a target as the stuffed beaver on the mantel was, Master Benedict was even less likely to appreciate us going to war with the animals that decorated his shop. “What about that?” I said. Hanging from the ceiling near the fireplace was a small iron cauldron. “We can shoot at the bottom of it.” Tom pushed aside the antimony cups on the other table, leaving enough space to put down the cauldron. I picked up our cannon and pressed it against my abdomen to hold it steady. Tom tore a scrap of parchment from our deciphered recipe and held it in the fire until it caught. Then he lit the cannon’s wick. Sparks fizzed, racing toward the pipe like a flaming hornet. Tom dived behind the counter and peeked over the top. “Watch this,” I said. The blast nearly blew my ears off. I saw a burst of flame, and a mound of smoke, then the pipe kicked back like an angry ox and nailed me right between the legs.

Editorial Reviews

"An inspired blend of action, adventure, science, history, and humor, filled with fascinating facts, clever codes, and wonderful characters."