The Foundling: Monster Blood Tattoo, by D. M. Cornish

Poor Rosamund Bookchild. Orphaned and odd, he just can’t catch a break. He's scrawny and curious in a world where neither is desirable. Kids pick on him, potential employers pass him over, and all but a few of his caretakers would just as soon he simply vanished. Still, he is about to have greatness thrust upon him.

D. M. Cornish’s novel The Foundling—the first book in his "Monster Blood Tattoo" trilogy—is structured as a Dickens-esque slice-of-life novel. Our poor orphan is robbed of his innocence by a parade of seedy characters, and upstanding members of society are quickly juxtaposed with the grifters in the underbelly.

Writers and children will love this book. Children won’t care about the book’s clichés, while writers will appreciate the way Cornish refashions Victorian archetypes with subtle fantasy touches. His craft is not fully developed, but is still well done. There’s a lengthy travelogue section that’s reminiscent of China Miéville, the current master of socially-conscious steampunk.

A great book, though, is more than the sum of its parts. I first read The Foundling four months ago, and writing this review has almost convinced me to read it again. While I originally considered the book to be no more than mediocre, many of the images stuck with me so vividly that I want to revisit them and place them into context. Cornish’s sparks of originality and creativity continue to smolder within my mind, and I’ll keep the book close for a slow afternoon.

Before I end this review, though, I should mention the book’s most irritating affectation: Cornish devotes a full third of The Foundling to a glossary and dramatis, and starts every chapter with a dictionary definition. He obviously feels words are very important, but much of this proved unnecessary—I only found myself resorting to the dictionary twice. The glossary fleshes out Cornish’s world, but is not essential for simply enjoying his story.

[Review by the noble and selfless Keith]
Posted by: Julianka


04 Jun, 2008 10:10 PM @ version 0

The glossary might have been a little excessive, but I loved everything about this story. It's rare to encounter a book that has been so elaborately imagined, and I really admired the craft that went into the book.

04 Jun, 2008 11:39 PM @ version 0

I completely agree that Mr. Cornish's world is enchanting. Just this last weekend, I read the sequel, Lamplighter, and was delighted to spend more time on the Half-Continent.

After reading both books, though, I feel a little unsatisfied. The books read to me as if the story plays second fiddle to the setting. I have high hopes that the story will come into its own in the third book, which can not arrive soon enough for me!

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