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The Blackthorn Key

(The Blackthorn Key #1)

4.15  ·  Rating details ·  9,601 ratings  ·  1,501 reviews
“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 mur
Hardcover, 384 pages
Published September 1st 2015 by Aladdin
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Average rating 4.15  · 
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 ·  9,601 ratings  ·  1,501 reviews

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Darth J
The Da Vinci Code meets The Apothecary, minus Tom Hanks's unflattering hairstyle

Yep, there's even a secret bookcase door. Often "keys" in this book are the chemical kind that would make Professor Snape (RIP) proud.

I thought that for a MG book, this was actually pretty well thought out. While it can be a bit dry in parts, the characters themselves are pretty clever and inventive. It goes to show that books aimed at kids don't have to be full of forced snark à la Nickelodeon or Disney Channel--ser
Jun 19, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This is a fantastic, fast-paced historical mystery and I honestly did not want to put it down! Aimed at middle-graders but definitely one that any reader could enjoy, The Blackthorn Key is the complete package – mysterious puzzles and codes, thrilling and suspenseful action, history and science, and exceptional friendships.

Set in 1665 in the city of London, this book introduces us to Christopher Rowe, our clever hero, who is apprenticed as an apothecary to Master Benedict Blackthorn. Having res
Nov 01, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: believathon

In 1665, Christopher Rowe serves as an apprentice to a successful London apothecary, Master Benedict Blackthorn.

Blackthorn saved Christopher from a harsh and uncertain future, by adopting him from a local orphanage. Since that time, Blackthorn has acted as a caring father figure and mentor to the young boy.

Christopher is very clever, adept at following chemical recipes, deciphering puzzles and reading complex codes.

Along with his good friend, Tom, the baker's son, Christopher gets h
Aug 30, 2015 rated it really liked it
A cracking good middle-grade adventure read, with loving attention to historical detail (including the religious and political aspects that often get left out), plenty of mysteries, codes and puzzles, vivid characters, high tragedy and low humour -- in short, a book many readers will love and want to recommend to others, and justly so. It shows a lot of talent, depth and confidence for a debut novel and Kevin Sands seems clearly on his way to a solid career.

If I had one niggle, it would be that
Jay Kennedy
May 13, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
~Video Review~

Brilliant. Utterly brilliant. I won an advanced reader's copy book from a GR giveaway and I am so happy I did. This book is set to release on September 3rd 2015; which is when you should buy and read it. To be blunt, it's amazing, and quite honestly one of my new favorite middle-grades.

London 1665. A world of wigged gentlemen, drunkard peasants, and orphaned children. Christopher Rowe is an orphan at Cripplegate Orphanage, when he impresses an elite m
Aug 05, 2020 rated it really liked it
4.25 stars

I thought this was fantasy but it’s actually a historical fiction adventure.

It was a lot of fun for me. It features 14-year-old Christopher is an apprentice apothecary in 1665. He gets caught up the schemes of some really loathsome villains. He follows clues and solves puzzles set up by his master while escaping the villains — a bit like “Goonies.”

I really enjoyed how Christopher uses chemistry and logic to defeat the bad guys. The book is clever, fast-paced, and full of adventure and
Erin Bow
May 15, 2015 rated it really liked it
This is lined up to be Simon and Schuster's big Middle Grade title for the fall. GOOD CHOICE, S&S.

Set among the apothecaries -- and secret alchemists -- of London in 1665, this book is a perfect MG page-turner, with codes to crack and secret doors to open and vast conspiracies to foil, oh my. There is high adventure, some moving moments, and a truly satisfying number of explosions.

When I do bookstore events, I usually hang out in the kids and teens sections, trying to match readers with books.
joey (thoughts and afterthoughts)
[See the full review at thoughts and afterthoughts.]

Rating: 4.5/5
Should this book be picked up? the tl;dr review:
– Frenetically paced mystery with solvable puzzles providing an interactive reading experience
– Hist-fic world building is rustic, has medieval flair, and the tone is vividly portrayed given it’s time; mild “fade to black/off-screen” gore
– Characters and relationships (i.e. bromance) feel organic. However, there isn’t a strong female presence
– There is a pigeon named Bridget. You
Leah Waters
Apr 15, 2020 rated it it was ok
So...I really liked the first half, and this went downhill from there--fast.

While the characters were fun, the plot and the story itself wasn't. It was sad, stressful, and infuriating. It was also surprisingly dark and gory--enough to make me, an avid YA fantasy read, cringe. There's torture and murder and maiming...and if this was a YA book, maybe that would be okay, but I read this expecting a fun MG adventure, and that's not what I got.

Also, the big reveal at the end came out of nowhere. Not
Amber J
Jan 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Ages 8 and up. Lovers of adventure, historical fiction, young adult, mystery, codes and puzzles.

“It is never the tool that decides. It's the hands-and the heart-of the one who wields it.”

As always my reviews are based off of my true and honest opinion and I do my best to keep all reviews spoiler free.


Christopher Rowe is an apprentice to the apothecary Benedict Blackthorn. He's learning not only how to create recipes but how to make and decipher codes. However before he knows it, Christopher Rowes life comes crashing down, and now its in danger as well. Together Christophe

This book was SO SATISFYING! It has humor, history, mystery, science, religion, snarky characters, potty jokes, and it reads like a middle grades version of a Dan Brown novel. I gobbled this down like Christopher Rowe gobbled down his "icey cream" on Oak Apple Day -- read the book, and that will make sense. Also, Bridget the loyal pigeon is the BEST. Definitely one I'll emphatically promote to seventh grade readers. ...more
Brandy Painter
Originally posted here at Random Musings of a Bibliophile.

I feel there is a lack of good quality MG historical fiction that is fun and adventurous, where the point isn't to teach a history lesson, but to just have a story that sweeps you up in its magic and action. The Blackthorn Key by Kevin Sands fills this need.

Christopher Rowe is an apothecary's apprentice in post Restoration London. He works hard, but he has a kind master who teaches him well and allows him enough free time for adventures t
Kari Ramadorai
May 30, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Kevin Sands’ Blackthorn Key is well written. Period. I would share it in a heartbeat, and it's a quick and easy read.

Christopher was an orphan in the busy London of the mid 1600’s. Taken as an apothecary’s apprentice at eleven, he’s bonded to his master. What’s more, he’s good at learning the trade. There’s a murderer about, and he stalks apothecaries. The rest you’ll have to read.

It’s been a long time since a book’s impressed me this much. Christopher and Tom are likeable, and the sensations of
Brian Yahn
Nov 11, 2015 rated it it was ok
Essentially, The Blackthorn Key is a plot driven mystery. The problem is: without any twists--beside the one on the back of the book--it's too predictable. Sure, it's got plenty of cliffhangers and surprises, but nothing that really takes the book in a new direction.

Although it starts off strong with a quirky protagonist and his goofy sidekick having a fun little misadventure, the rest of the story is too consumed with plot to let the characters shine.
Mar 01, 2015 rated it it was amazing
When his Apothecary Master dies, 14-year-old apprentice Christopher sets off to solve the mystery of the kindly man’s death, amidst codes, puzzles, secret formulas, sinister cults, and more. Humor, adventure, mystery, and danger, along with a trouble-causing, extremely likeable main character, will make this a hit with young readers! I loved it!
Ross Blocher
Aug 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing
The Blackthorn Key is the smart and gripping fictional tale of Christopher Rowe, a young orphan-turned-apothecary-apprentice in 1665 London who gets caught up in a plot involving a cult that seeks an alchemical weapon and is willing to kill for it. Throughout, author Kevin Sands incorporates knowledge of 17th century England and chemistry as it was understood then, discarding a lot of nonsense and highlighting the things apothecaries of the time would have had right. The book is filled with puzz ...more
Jul 04, 2015 rated it it was amazing
It's really rare to find a middle grade novel that's both a great page-turning adventure and also a detailed, thoroughly researched, believable piece of historical fiction. While there's a little bit of magic and some elements that border on 17th century sci fi here, the world of London in 1665 is rich and real, as are the lives of its merchants and apprentices. At the same time, the nearly non-stop action, adventure and mystery will keep readers turning the pages, and the solution to the myster ...more
Aug 24, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Man, is this a fun read. Great premise, great characters, great historical fiction. More importantly, my kids absolutely loved it. I'm pretty sure they considered this one of the best books of the year.
Jun 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Loved this story. Great characters, intriguing story, and fun puzzles to try to figure out. Oh, and nice work at the end. Don't mess with an apprentice! ...more
Online Eccentric Librarian
Aug 23, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: arc, historical, childrens

More reviews at the Online Eccentric Librarian

More reviews (and no fluff) on the blog

The Blackthorn Key is an engaging middle grade historical/mystery that reads very much like a 12-year-old-friendly version of an Umberto Eco book. Set during the English Restoration (17th century, when Charles II was restored to the throne after Olive Cromwell's puritan revolution/civil war) the book has wonderful historical perspectives on the times that aren't overbearing or obtrusive to the story. But at heart, thi
Sep 28, 2015 rated it it was amazing

Whenever I open a book, and the first thing I find is a map of Seventeenth Century of my favourite settings, I feel confident that it's going to be good, and this one certainly didn't disappoint me....I loved it....
With an abundance of Apothecaries, an ancient, mysterious and much sought after formula, charts, evil plots, secret doors and chambers, several gruesome corpses, and a cast of brilliantly described characters, The Blackthorn Key is a wonderfully entertaining book, that
Christina (A Reader of Fictions)
2.5 stars

Add this to the list of middle grade novels that I find perfectly acceptable but not particularly interesting to me. For middle grade readers who are into chemistry and explosions, The Blackthorn Key will be a fast-paced romp.

For me, who’s not much into those things and reads for strong characters, The Blackthorn Key fell a bit flat. The fast pace and mini cliffhangers at the end of many of the chapters made it a quick enough read, but it wasn’t a total hit for me. The historical settin
Richard Corbett
Mar 06, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This is full of clever mysteries,codes, twists and turns,action,and humor. Christopher and Tom have this wonderful friendship that reminds me of Frodo and Sam with a wonderful bookseller,apothecaries, set in a medieval time with an ending full of warmth love and very real. What is not to love.
Jul 22, 2015 rated it really liked it
This was such an interesting and entertaining read. I got sucked right into Christopher's world. Absolutely loved the story, as well. ...more
Jun 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I expected a childish book about chemistry and alchemy, but it was surprisingly good and really well written. The story was full of action and it turned out to be a crime story actually. Strongly recomnended.
Bryn Shutt
Feb 23, 2020 rated it really liked it
I don't read MG very often, but when I do … I'd rather -- you know -- a large percentage of the cast NOT to die … #seriously. ...more
This book was full of mystery, intrigue and action. I enjoyed the little codes that Christopher had to solve throughout the book. The pigeon was a fun added touch and very unique. Overall, a fun little adventure.
Miller Mi
Sep 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This book was really interesting. I think Christopher was really brave to do what his master left for him. The secret mission. He was really good at solving problems, and he is also very clever with the codes and the symbols. There was a lot of killing stuff in the book, and Christopher's master had been murdered by other masters. He was sad but he stood up and went against the killers although no one was supporting him except his friends. I think I will read it again. ...more
Liz at Midnight Bloom Reads
Jul 13, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Kevin Sands's The Blackthorn Key is undoubtedly one of my favourite books of the year. A thrilling page-turner and unforgettable murder mystery, The Blackthorn Key is filled with twists and turns (and an explosion or two!) to keep your heart constantly racing. Danger, mischief, humour, and a pigeon named Bridget—what's not to love about this middle grade debut?

Set during the Restoration period in the 17th century, the year is 1665 and Charles II has been restored to his throne after years of ex
Rashika (is tired)
Actual Rating 3.5

***This review has also been posted on The Social Potato

Do you like things that go boom? I like things that go boom. Do you like books that feature alchemists? I like books that feature alchemists. Do you think you’ll like this book? WELL I DID.

I knew this book was one I needed to read after I saw that one of the quotes for the book was from the author of Artemis Fowl. I mean, it really doesn’t get much better than Artemis Fowl if you are looking for a series with great wor
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Since escaping from university with a pair of degrees in theoretical physics, Kevin Sands has worked as a researcher, a business consultant, and a teacher. He is the author of the bestselling The Blackthorn Key series. His fifth book, The Traitor's Blade, comes out May 11. ...more

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The Blackthorn Key (5 books)
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“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.” 20 likes
“It is never the tool that decides. It's the hands-and the heart-of the one who wields it.” 10 likes
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