Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Monster Blood Tattoo – Book One: The Foundling

Monster Blood Tattoo – Book One: The Foundling

D.M. Cornish
Fiction
For ages 12 and up
Penguin, 2007   ISBN: 978-0142409138

Rossamund has been at Madam Opera’s Estimable Marine Society for Foundling Boys and Girls ever since he was an infant. He turned up on the doorstep of the Society wrapped in swaddling. A piece of card was pinned to the fabric and on it was one word: Rossamund. Being a boy who has a girl’s name has not been easy, and Rossamund has been teased and bullied. One boy in particular takes great pleasure in making Rossamund as miserable as he can manage.

   As he lies in bed after being beaten up, again, Rossamund reads about great monster hunters of the past. He lives in a world where monsters of all kinds populate the places that are not protected by high walls and other fortifications. How grand it would be to be a monster hunter, a skold, though there is little chance that such a thing would be possible. He wouldn’t mind being a sailor though.

   Most of the girls and boys in the foundlingery end up being employed by the navy because the navy is one of the establishment’s sponsors. Rossamund has been passed over by potential employers several times already and he is beginning to think that he will never get to sail the world’s oceans. Then a stranger comes to visit the foundlingery and the stranger asks to see him, Rossamund.

   The man, Mister Sebastipole offers Rossamund a job working not for the navy, but for the Emperor himself. He offers Rossamund the job of being a lamplighter who will work on one of the Most Imperial Master’s Highroads, the famous Conduit Vermis. Rossamund’s task will be to do his part to keep the lamps light on this road so that it is “safe for all happy travelers.” Rossamund is disappointed that the job is such a mundane one, but at least he is finally going to get out of the foundlingery and out into the real world.

   After being kitted out with a new and expensive set of clothes, a handsome hat, a kit of potions, documents, some money, and other necessities, Rossamund leaves behind the only home he has known. He meets Mister Sebastipole near the canal to get his instructions. He is told to board a boat called Rupunzil and to travel to High Vestig. From there he must go to Wistermill, which is where he will find the headquarters of the lamplighters.

   Rossamund does as he is bid and finds the rivermaster of the Rupunzil. Or at least that is what the man tells him he is. The boat Rossamund is told to board is filthy and the crew members are a rough and decidedly unsavory bunch. Rossamund cannot imagine why the lamplighter agent would have him travel on such a vessel. It is only later that he begins to think that perhaps the rivermaster tricked him and that he is on the wrong boat altogether.

   Then, in the middle of the night during the journey the crew of the boat bring a strange and terrifying cargo aboard. When excise clerks come on board to investigate at Boschenburg, Rossamund takes advantage of their presence to escape from the boat.

   After a dunking in the river, Rossamund sets of on the road to High Vestig. He has no hope of getting to the city on time if he has to travel the whole way on foot. Then he is found by a monster hunter and her factotum. Europe, the monster hunter, is a beautiful woman who takes pity on poor miserable Rossamund. She offers to convey him to High Vestig though he will have to be with her as she works. Though Rossamund is frightened of Europe’s assistant, he is happy to accept her offer. He never imagines that the woman, who is so lovely, is hard and dangerous.

   In this first Monster Tattoo title, the author takes his readers to a world that is not much like our own. Monsters, friendly and deadly, haunt the countryside, and monster hunters, strange beings with frightening powers, stalk them. Readers who like to journey to different worlds will find this story irresistible and they will be delighted to know that further Monster Tattoo adventures await them.

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