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The Blackthorn Key (The Blackthorn Key #1)

4.13  ·  Rating details ·  5,811 Ratings  ·  1,067 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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Raevyn Oswald Moderately. Enough that I wouldn’t call it a middle-grade book, but not enough to be considered horrible for teens. :)

Community 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
Cait • A Page with a View
Nov 07, 2017 rated it really liked it
This was easily one of the best middle grade books I've ever read. It was just plain fun and the main character's hilarious personality came through so strongly. It kind of reminded me of The Bartimaeus Trilogy at times?

Christopher is an apprentice to an apothecary who taught him Latin and all sorts of symbols. There's a cult slowly picking off the masters in the guild, so Christopher's master leaves him a series of clues and codes to track down the killers.

It was a light adventure that turned
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
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 bo
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 w
Oct 23, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: tauschregal
»Verrate es niemandem«
Bis zu dieser rätselhaften Warnung war Christopher Rowe eigentlich zufrieden mit seinem Leben als Lehrling des Apothekermeisters und Alchemisten Benedict Blackthorn. Er hatte ein Dach über dem Kopf, sein Meister lehrte ihn nicht nur, wie man Mittel gegen Warzen herstellt, sondern auch wie man verschlüsselte Botschaften knackt und Rätsel löst. Doch das alles ändert sich, als eine Serie mysteriöser Morde London heimsucht. Fast immer sind es Alchemisten, die getötet werden. Ch
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.
Temi Panayotova
Oct 29, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Нека си призная нещо – трябваше да приключа книжката още миналата седмица. Поради по-малкото ми свободно време, успях да я приключа днес.

Краткото описание на самият гръб на книгата ме съмнява, че би ви дало идея за какво е историята. Но както се казва, не съдете книгата по корицата… защото ако го направите с тази книга, ще изпуснете едно невероятно приключение!

Историята се развива през 17-сти век във Великобритания. И ако се чудите – да това е времето, в което е имало крале и замъци.

Историята ни
Andrei Cioată
Jan 03, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Ce dor mi-a fost să citesc ceva ficțiune, în genul ăsta, care să NU mă plictisească! :) Super carte, cu de toate, amuzantă, doi prieteni într-o cocârdășie super, ce să mai. Chiar merită 5 steluțe!
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
Iliana Simeonova
Една невероятна книга, която с лекота ме прати в далечни 17в. с увлекателния, лек и приятен начин, по който бе разказана историята.
Това е една книга изпълнена с приключения и загадки, с герои изгради по прекрасни начин, който ме накара да ми се свива сърцето, когато им се случи нещо лошо.
Това е една прекрасна книга разказваща за силата на приятелството, за смелост, борбеност, сила и отдаденост.
Ревюто на книгата тук -
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!
Dec 20, 2016 rated it really liked it
Un libro lleno de amistad, misterios y secretos que me maravilló. Lo mejor la ambientación londinense del siglo XVII y todo el entramado mágico/alquímico que hay en torno a la trama. Me gustó mucho el portagonista y creo que leeré más sobre sus próximas aventuras.
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
Sep 11, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Oliver Rohrbeck (auch bekannt von den Drei ???) ist einfach ein super Sprecher, der perfekt zu dieser Geschichte gepasst hat. Die Story ist toll, schön abenteuerlich, und das Geheimnis, das aufgedeckt werden muss, wirklich spannend. Als Hörbuch fand ich die Geschichte wirklich super, nicht nur für jüngere Leser/ Hörer, sondern auch für die Älteren. ;)
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
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
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.
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!
Online Eccentric Librarian
Aug 23, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: arc, childrens, historical

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, this i
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.
Michelle Lynne
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.
Mar 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: historical
Worum geht's?
Christopher ist eigentlich zufrieden mit seinem Leben. Unter den Fittichen von seinem Meister Benedict Blackthorn lernt er nicht nur die Grundprinzipien der Alchemie kennen, sondern auch noch wie man Codes entschlüsselt. Doch eine Serie mysteriöser Morde sucht London heim und Christopher spürt, dass sein Meister in Gefahr ist - denn es sind ausgerechnet Alchemisten, die ihnen zum Opfer fallen. Plötzlich steht Christopher vor einem Rätsel, dem er augenscheinlich nicht gewachsen ist.
Jul 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
„Verrate es niemandem« Bis zu dieser rätselhaften Warnung war Christopher Rowe eigentlich zufrieden mit seinem Leben als Lehrling des Apothekermeisters und Alchemisten Benedict Blackthorn. Er hatte ein Dach über dem Kopf, sein Meister lehrte ihn nicht nur, wie man Mittel gegen Warzen herstellt, sondern auch wie man verschlüsselte Botschaften knackt und Rätsel löst. Doch das alles ändert sich, als eine Serie mysteriöser Morde London heimsucht. Fast immer sind es Alchemisten, die getötet werden. C ...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.
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Book Review 1 3 Mar 12, 2018 06:43PM  
This book is underrated 2 13 Aug 19, 2017 10:37PM  
Book Ramblings: The Blackthorn Key series 22 12 Mar 10, 2017 09:17AM  
Goodreads Librari...: Add page count, please 3 14 Sep 25, 2016 09:02PM  
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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 third book, The Assassin's Curse, comes out September 2017.
More about Kevin Sands

Other books in the series

The Blackthorn Key (4 books)
  • Mark of the Plague (The Blackthorn Key, #2)
  • The Assassin's Curse (The Blackthorn Key, #3)
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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.” 12 likes
“It is never the tool that decides. It's the hands-and the heart-of the one who wields it.” 4 likes
More quotes…