Great books

If your kid likes action, mystery, humour and the middle ages…

Blackthorn Key by Kevin Sands Simon and Schuster…then try The Blackthorn Key, by Kevin Sands

Have you seen Merlin, on Netflix? That’s a pretty good comparison for what this book is like in tone, character and even plot, in some ways.

One of the blurbs on the book says the main character is “like Dan Brown and Percy Jackson had a child.” That’s not bad either, but I think my Merlin comparison is even closer.

The Blackthorn Key is set in the Middle Ages; the main character is an apprentice to the closest thing those ages had to doctors — an alchemist.

Most masters back then were pretty merciless to their apprentices, according to the book. But orphaned Christopher Rowe has managed to find a truly good master, Master Blackthorn, who teaches him and doesn’t beat him. Unfortunately (SPOILER!) he gets murdered pretty early on in the book.

And then Christopher is pretty much on his own, to navigate a cruel, Oliver Twist-ian world.

He’s got to find the murderers, prove it in a way that the King will believe, and then figure out how he is going to rebuild his life.

It’s a tall order, but the smart and always resourceful Christopher Rowe is up for it.

The book is exceptionally well paced. By that, I mean it’s slow where it should be, fast-moving where it should be, and full of action right when you want it–where kids will want it, too. The “world” is well-constructed, and the characters are interesting and likeable (or hateable, depending on the character).

Why to buy this book for your non-reading kid
Some kids like reading about knights and wizards–the Middle Ages tends to be a pretty good hook to get kids reading. And although the book is fairly long (my “advance reading copy” is 371 pages) it clips right along, with few exceptions, so it’s a fast read.

If you go to, you can read an excerpt of the book to see what you think. There’s even an audio file (scroll down until you come to it) where you can hear an excerpt–awesome. (Don’t bother with the video trailer–it’s fancy, but it’s only 27 seconds and it doesn’t say much except that the book is about “potions, puzzles, explosions… and muuuuuurder.”) The page also hints about another book in the series, but I can’t find anything online about that (The Blackthorn Key was published in 2015, so he’s probably still writing. Writing’s hard.)

Kevin SandsOh, and check out what Kevin Sands’ website says about him — it’s pretty interesting:
“Since escaping from university with a pair of degrees in theoretical physics, Kevin Sands has worked as a researcher, business consultant, a teacher, and a professional poker player. He lives in Toronto, Canada. The Blackthorn Key is his debut novel.”

Poker-playing, book-writing theoretical physicist. How cool is that? Very.

Simon and Schuster says the book is for ages 10 to 14, but of course younger or older kids would also like it, depending on the kid. And it seems to retail for anywhere from $10 to $25 for the hardback or about $11 for the e-book — although these days, it’s hard to tell how much any book retails for–do you find that, too? Here’s the book on so you can see what I mean.

Oh, and just for fun? Here’s the IMDb page on Merlin.

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