I’m in the habit of telling people about awesome books right after I finish them – I kinda get paid to do it, so that works out nicely. Lately I’ve been doing a lot of what I call “catchup reading,” which means that the title I’m reviewing isn’t necessarily a brand new book, but that it’s something that caught my eye awhile ago and I’ve been meaning to get to. I’ve had the opportunity to whittle away at the catchup pile this summer, and FOUNDLING the first in the Monster Blood Tattoo series by D.M. Cornish was on that pile – and am I ever glad I got around to it.
Rossamund is the unlikely name of our boy hero, a resident of Madam Opera’s Estimable Marine Society for Foundling Boys and Girls, who is chosen to become a Lamplighter, a dangerous and esteemed job in the world of Half-Continent, where large city-states are the only civilized areas and the criss-crossing roads in between are filled with monstrosities.
Rossamund is a foundling, and counts himself lucky to have found a position as a Lamplighter – one who travels the roads to light the lamps for those who would attempt to travel. Exactly how perilous such journeys are quickly become evident to the reader; the entire first book is about Rossamund’s journey to the city-state in which he will begin his Lamplighter training, and the misadventures that come along with it.
He is immediately set upon by an evil boat captain who coerces him onto the wrong ship, one which dabbles in the dark trades, such as transporting re-animated dead monster parts that have been pasted together in a Frankenstein-esque manner. Guile saves Rossamund, but chance crosses his path with Europe, a famous female monster slayer – a profession which our boy hero has always had an interest.
Europe herself is a somewhat dubious character – she has had elective surgery that makes her able to produce and direct her own electric energy, and the first kill that Rossamund witnesses her make is to dispatch of a confused ogre on the road who is more guilty of stupidity than fiendishness. Her factotum – a monster killer’s servant – is a leer, someone washes their eyes in a chemical that allows them to see into and through things. Unfortunately, in addition to the chemicals the leer also needs to wear a box over the face that is comprised of monster organs, and this particular leer wore his box to long and the internal organs have grown into his own face, causing Europe to nickname him “Boxface.”
The book is filled with world-building, but it is so deftly inserted into the text that only a reader who writes would notice all the touches. It’s a well-contrived, beautifully layered story that I’ve only touched upon here. Maps, character sketches and a glossary in the back that includes character backgrounds left me lost in the story a good two hours after I finished the book itself.