The Blackthorn Key

The Blackthorn Key

Book - 2015
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In 1665 London, fourteen-year-old Christopher Rowe, apprentice to an apothecary, and his best friend, Tom, try to uncover the truth behind a mysterious cult, following a trail of puzzles, codes, pranks, and danger toward an unearthly secret with the power to tear the world apart.
Publisher: New York : Aladdin, 2015
Edition: First Aladdin hardcover edition
ISBN: 9781481446525
Characteristics: 371 pages ; 22 cm


From the critics

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liljables Oct 17, 2018

This book was a great surprise! I lead the Grade 5-6-7 Book Club here at WPL, and I don't always love the middle grade books we read. But, The Blackthorn Key was a stand-out: the characters were great, I was immediately gripped by the plot, and I wasn't able to guess every twist and turn. I would recommend this to fans of adventurous historical fiction of any age.

Jul 11, 2018

This book was incredible and it had many different and interesting characters. I recommend this book to anyone who likes fantasy and magic.this book had many different potions and codes that were used by the characters:)

Wow, this is an amazing book! It was so interesting I couldn’t stop reading. The characters were great and the puzzles were all so cool! My teacher was definitely right, this book is awesome! Best Book Ever!!!!!!

Mar 08, 2018

I absolutely love The Blackthorn Key. I love how even though it's set in a different time period it's not confusing to read. Everything is explained, so even though things are different then now, it makes sense. I also love the report titled “The Stupidest idea in the universe”. Everytime I read that, I smile. And I read this book a lot! I can’t put it down once I pick it up. It’s so fun and exciting to read. So many parts of the book make me laugh too. I really like it when I read a book that makes me laugh and is a page turner. The Blackthorn Key is an amazing book that you should read. @ToastieTaco of the Teen Review Board at the Hamilton Public Library

The book is about a boy named Christopher. He is a happy boy who loves to solves puzzles and one day he receives a cryptic code. He has to use every skill he has learned from solving puzzles and solve the mystery. This was a well thought out and well-written book. I really enjoyed reading it. I was recommended this book from one of my friends and I am really glad they recommended it to me. The characters were well thought out and interesting. The book was so unexpected and always kept me on the edge of my seat. I would totally recommend this to teenagers aged 12-17. I give this book a 4.3 out of 5 stars.
- @terrificbooklover of the Teen Review Board of the Hamilton Public Library

Set in the 1600’s, this book is definitely going to keep you on the edge of your
seat to find out what’s going to happen next. Christopher Rowe’s life was ought to be
perfect until a mysterious cult begins to hunt on London’s apothecaries. Now it’s up to
Christopher Rowe to discover the key to a terrible secret in order to save the city. This
book is filled with captivating moments that involve suspense, secrets, recipes,
remedies, pigeons and more! The author did an amazing job writing this book as it
brings the reader on a spectacular adventure. It is the perfect read for teens and will
make them want to read the next parts to this series as well: Mark of the Plague, and
The Assassin’s Curse.
- @JustOneMorePage... of the Teen Review Board at the Hamilton Public Library

JCLChrisK Feb 27, 2017

A gritty historical setting, a murderous cult, puzzles and codes to decipher, and explosively destructive science, all packaged within a fast-paced mystery that keeps the protagonist and readers off-balance. I'm requesting the sequel as soon as I finish writing this review. Definitely recommended.

From the back cover: "A WARNING: The recipes and remedies in this book were used by real apothecaries. There's a reason we don't see them anymore. Some are devious, some are dangerous, and a few are just plain deadly. So, as they say: Don't try this at home. Seriously."

Feb 16, 2017

THE BLACKTHORN KEY is a well-written, entertaining novel that is great for both introducing readers to science and puzzles but also to history and myths. Kids love to learn but not every child does well in a classroom setting, so I think this book works well as an alternative. It's also a very good book for getting kids into reading. I liked the main character but I didn't love him. I think the book could have used a bit more diversity in its cast. The main characters are all young, white boys - the group with the most representation in children's lit. It'd be amazing for non-white, non-male readers to be able to see themselves in such an entertaining novel. I'll be continuing the series but I hope to see more diversity. I was of course fully captivated by the plot!

If the lack of diversity continues, I won't be satisfied with the excuse of "historical accuracy", considering this book has a 12 year old solving a string of murders, with Greek fire (a myth) at the centre of it all. At least add a girl to the main cast.

Nov 28, 2016

An aweaome historical fantasy based set in London in the late 1600's. Mystery, alchemy, treachery and lots of explosions make it a book that is very hard to put down: make sure you had enough sleep the night before you start it.

PMPL_AnaC Aug 26, 2016

Very interesting setting and plot for a children's book. Unlike anything I've read before. Mystery, adventure, friendship.

Aug 11, 2016

Full of suspense and action .

Aug 09, 2016

If I'm being honest, I didn't really know what I was getting into when I started The Blackthorn Key. I hadn't heard any buzz, so I went into this book without expectation, though I had heard mild rumblings that this was going to be on par with Percy Jackson in terms of popular middle grade fiction.

Screw Percy Jackson, this book is better. Call me a heathen, but The Blackthorn Key easily swept my interest in a way Percy Jackson failed to do so. This book has such a rich setting, very dark, mysterious, and the story is centred around cults who attack apothecaries, and our protagonist, Christopher's master, happens to be one of the prey. This means this book is full of puzzles -- and I love me some clever puzzles. Sands was even kind enough to give decoders in the novel so the reader can unravel the meaning of the puzzles themselves, which is so rad! (And yes, I used it many, many times...)

I really enjoyed the story in this book. It's fast paced, crazy, and it keeps the reader on the toes. The puzzle elements are a unique addition and it's a great way for the reader to exercise their brain power along side Christopher as he unravels what happened to his master. Furthermore, every chapter has a cliffhanger, and for me personally, I definitely got into the habit of "Just one more chapter!" because Sands knows how to keep his readers engaged.

Plus I thought the characters were really well done. I adored Christopher's tenacity and love that he wasn't the stereotypical troublemaker that middle grade loves to throw at readers. He's insanely passionate about his apprenticeship and has such a strong belief in working hard. He also wears his flaws on his sleeve, which I thought was a nice touch. I also loved his relationship with Tom, who I felt was a good foil for Christopher at times. He's a little quirky, but has so much heart. Even the villains and the cult are well portrayed -- there's an eerie tone throughout the novel, and the novel does this great job of never making the reader or the characters feel safe.

I also appreciated how the novel was wrapped up. I liked that there wasn't a pretty bow and that Christopher doesn't get out of the situation and the mystery scott free, but rather he's forced to accept a situation that he couldn't control. He's left with a lot of depth embedded in him. Something which I appreciated.

The Blackthorn Key was a great ride, and easily one of the more intriguing middle grade novels I've had the pleasure of reading this year. While I adored the puzzle elements in this novel, I wonder if it's something every reader is going to feel engaged with. I don't know how hip or with it decoders are (though I enjoyed it!). I think this story does so much right in terms of drawing the reader in with its characters, setting and over all atmosphere, and I do hope this book gets well-loved, because honesty, I really do think it's better than some of the most of the popular middle grade series out there.

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Add Age Suitability

indigo_hummingbird_262 thinks this title is suitable for 12 years and over

Jun 20, 2017

indigo_magpie_20 thinks this title is suitable for between the ages of 10 and 19

Jun 11, 2017

tatst2002 thinks this title is suitable for between the ages of 8 and 16

Apr 17, 2017

TammyKR12 thinks this title is suitable for between the ages of 9 and 15

Aug 11, 2016

Eric_23 thinks this title is suitable for 10 years and under

Jul 27, 2016

lynx_girl thinks this title is suitable for between the ages of 10 and 16

Jul 08, 2016

Mardoch thinks this title is suitable for between the ages of 10 and 14


Add a Summary
Jul 29, 2016

There are on the murders loose. After Christopher's master is murdered, he is left with a code. Can he crack the code and stay alive? Or will the murders catch him too? Time is running out, and Christopher is running from the murders and now the law.

Jul 08, 2016

This book is about the apothecaries Christopher and his journey of finding the secret recipe to create the power of the god while the archangel's cult is killing apothecaries across London


Add a Quote
Jul 27, 2016

Lord Ashcombe tilted his head. "You used. His nature. Against him." I nodded.

Jul 27, 2016

Several steps ahead, Oswyn had said. But I'd already been taught that, by a man much greater than Oswyn could ever hope to be. Secrets under secrets. Codes inside codes. Traps within traps.
~Christopher Rowe,
The Blackthorn Key


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