So often, the second book in a series disappoints. It fails to live up to the expectations of the first. Or, maybe it fails to cover new ground, while maintaining the energy and character of the first. Kevin Sands has managed to do all three in The Mark of the Plague, sequel to The Blackthorn Key.
Publisher’s Summary: Christopher Rowe is back and there are more puzzles, riddles, and secrets to uncover in this follow-up to the Indie Next pick The Blackthorn Key, which was called a “spectacular debut” by Kirkus Reviews in a starred review.
The Black Death has returned to London, spreading disease and fear through town. A mysterious prophet predicts the city’s ultimate doom—until an unknown apothecary arrives with a cure that actually works. Christopher’s Blackthorn shop is chosen to prepare the remedy. But when an assassin threatens the apothecary’s life, Christopher and his faithful friend Tom are back to hunting down the truth, risking their lives to untangle the heart of a dark conspiracy.
And as the sickness strikes close to home, the stakes are higher than ever before…
I really liked this first book and, though prepared to be disappointed, I was entranced by the second. There are several reasons why I liked them both.
First, they are set in Restoration London. That’s the period marked by the return of Charles II as king (1660–85) following the period of Oliver Cromwell’s Commonwealth.This is a setting rarely explored in children’s & YA lit, so more power to Sands for choosing an interesting time and place.
Second, they both have mysteries involving codes and ciphers. I had a period growing up when I was obsessed with codes and ciphers and checked out the few books our small library had multiple times. I know that there are many middle grade readers out there who feel the same, decades after my youth.
Third, Christopher is an apothecary’s apprentice. The whole apothecary thing is interesting. In fact, several other book series for this age group are about apothecaries:
Forest of Wonders by Linda Sue Park and the Apothecary series by Maile Meloy.
Finally, I love the fact that Christopher is an apprentice. Although we have lots of stories of cruel masters, Christopher found an excellent one in Benedict Blackthorn.
Like The Blackthorn Key, the problem is wrapped up in The Mark of the Plague. Both books could be read as stand alones. I don’t know if there is a third book in the works, but, based on these two, I would read whatever Kevin Sands publishes next.