Monster Blood Tattoo Book One: Foundling by D.M. Cornish (book review).

In a world where humans and monsters co-exist, who are the good, the bad and the ugly? That’s the problem facing our young hero Rossamünd as he finally leaves the orphanage which raised him and sets out to become an apprentice in his new trade in this first book of the ‘Monster Blood Tattoo’ trilogy.

The land is called the Half-Continent and the orphanage, Madam Opera’s Estimable Society for Foundling Boys and Girls, is in the city-state of Boschenberg. The Haacobin Empire consists of several city-states linked by roads, rivers, canals and surrounded by the Vinegar Seas, caustic waters where man cannot survive. The waters and the land between city-states are populated with an assortment of monsters, forever at war with humankind. Larger monsters are known as bogles, smaller ones are called nickers.

Rossamünd was left on the steps of Madame Opera’s Estimable Society for Foundling Boys and Girls as a baby with a cardboard sign giving his name, a girl’s name. This anomaly led to some bullying as he grew up, especially by Gosling, a large, nasty boy whose parents put him in the orphanage, it seems, just to get rid of him. Rossamünd isn’t big or strong but has some allies on the staff, notably Verline, Madam Opera’s parlour maid and Master Fransitart, a former sailor or vinegaroon on the acid seas. Fransitart even has a monster blood tattoo, a skin marking made from the blood of a monster he slew. He’s a hero and Rossamünd wants to follow in his footsteps.

Unfortunately, when the time comes for selection, the only person interested in our small protagonist is a man from the Lamplighters guild. They do important work for the emperor himself, caring for the illuminations on the roads that link city-states together, but they are not vinegaroons. Reluctantly, Rossamünd signs up. He meets the agent at a canal and is sent to find a boat called Rapunzil, captained by Rivermaster Vigilus, that will take him on the first step of his long journey to the Lamplighters’ headquarters at Winstermill. But it’s foggy and, in his confusion, Rossamünd gets on the wrong boat. Rivermaster Poundinch doesn’t bother to tell him that but Poundinch is a villain. So begins the adventure and the long trip to Winstermill.

He meets pirates, bogles, nickers and a few surgically altered monster hunters. Foremost among these is Europe, a beautiful, rich lady and a lahzar, who can generate and control electricity in her own body. Her factotum, Licurius, is a leer with a special box over his eyes which enables him to see into and through objects. Europe is not especially kind and Licurius is downright mean but Rossamünd does meet a few nicer folks, too.

It was a tough time for Rossamünd but I liked it. Author and illustrator D.M. Cornish apparently worked for thirteen years to create this rich, well-imagined world and it seems to be a labour of love. As well as the usual fantasy novel maps, there are several pen and ink drawings of leading characters and also a one hundred page ‘Explicarium’ at the back of the book, a glossary of terms and explanations with appendices. You don’t need it while reading as relevant information is made clear in the text but it’s a useful extra for those seeking deeper immersion in the Half-Continent.

‘Monster Blood Tattoo’ was first published in 2006 so it’s available cheaply second-hand. The book is marketed for readers aged ten and up but rest assured that adults can enjoy it too. I think it’s terrific and will carry on eagerly with the next two volumes, ‘Lamplighter’ and ‘Factotum’.

Eamonn Murphy

October 2021

(pub: Penguin Young Readers, 2006. 434 page small hardback. Price: $18.99 (US). ISBN: 0-399-24638-X

434 page enlarged illustrated paperback, Price: $8.99 (US), $11.50 (CAN). ISBN: )

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