Regular readers will be familiar with my affection for Young Adult Fantasy Fiction and my appreciation for well designed books with strong illustrations. So it should come as no surprise that I enjoyed D.M. Cornish’s Foundling (Monster Blood Tattoo, Book 1) released today in paperback.
As other critics have noted, this debut novel and first in a series, is a rather unique blend of Dickens and Tolkien. We have an orphan, Rossamund Bookchild, on the cusp of independence struggling with his funny name and with the daunting task of making his way in the dangerous world outside the orphanage door. But this is no ordinary world. In the Half-Continent Cornish has created an fascinating alternate universe populated by man and monsters.
The Dickens reference obviously comes from the orphan plot line and the semi-Victorian feel. But also from the strong characters. We see Cornish’s world through the eyes of Rossamund, a good natured, loyal, and often brave young man. But there are a number of interesting secondary characters: the beautiful and kind orphanage parlor maid Verline; the tough but loving dormitory master Fansitart; the evil sea captain Poundich; the strange, rather cold, and yet beguiling monster killer Europe; and the kind and sympathetic postman Fouracres. Cornish skillfully develops Rossamund as a character not only through his own thoughts and actions but through his relationships and encounters with other characters. Because each character is drawn with a history, a unique perspective, and relationship with Rossamund the world seems natural and organic rather than artificial.
The Tolkienesque aspect comes from the complexity and detailed nature of Cornish’s creation. The world of the Half-Continent has a depth and level of detail that is rare in YA fantasy. This depth is reinforced by Cornish’s own attractive black and white illustrations of the main characters as well as the “Explicarium” or glossary provided at the back of the book. This addition provides over 100 pages of detailed explanations of the people, places, and creatures that make up this world as well as detailed maps, uniform sketches, and ship illustrations.
I think the School Library Journal summed it up well:
Cornish’s world-building efforts show a depth and intricacy reminiscent of the work of J. R. R. Tolkien or Robert Jordan. While the elaborate jargon may bewilder some, the unique and fascinating Half-Continent, where ships with organic engines sail caustic vinegar oceans and monster-hunters gain supernatural powers through dangerous surgeries, is a delightful, refreshing standout in a sea of cookie-cutter fantasy worlds.
I for one can’t wait for the next book in the series.