Friday, March 27, 2009

Review: Foundling by D.M. Cornish

Foundling begins the Monster Blood Tattoo series by D.M. Cornish (US, UK, Canada). Aimed at the YA audience, it achieves that magical ability to cross-over and appeal to adults just as easily through a thoroughly realized world and a heartfelt story that can appeal to pretty much anybody.

Instead of Sue, Cornish names his ill-named male protagonist Rossamünd, who quickly becomes the timeless lovable looser (also an orphan). The story opens with Rossamünd being pummeled by a bully in stick fight at the orphanage called Madam Opera’s Estimable Marine Society for Foundling Boys and Girls. Instead of a dilapidated place of suffering, this orphanage is a place of education and hope that trains orphans to join the Empire’s navy. Rossamünd is at an age when he can expect to be hired out at any time and is disappointed when it is revealed that instead of the navy, he finds himself conscripted into the lamplighters – a soldier tasked with lighting lamps on the Empire’s many long and lonely roadways. The remaining pages tell the fascinating story of Rossamünd’s journey to his new post – a journey fraught with danger as he learns valuable lessons about who and what the real monsters of the world are.

Immediately setting Cornish’s creation apart is its setting – a vast Victorian Empire, reminiscent of Australia in its geography, containing a depth rarely found in fiction of any sort. The Empire is land of united city-states full of their own rivalry yet bound together in their war against monsters. The land and the water are full of monsters (known as bogles, knickers and many other terms) with humans fighting for land and survival. Rather than swords, monsters are fought with chemistry – potions of repellent and all kinds of nastiness – and surgically altered humans that are endowed with spectacular powers (such as the ability to make, store and release huge amounts of electricity). The seas of the world are caustic vinegar and while much is reminiscent of an earlier time, things are equally alien. Supporting this world are Cornish’s own excellent illustrations and a massively informative appendix full of maps and definitions that weighs in at a healthy 121 pages.

Equally important to the success of the Foundling is Cornish’s wonderful characterization of Rossamünd and those he encounters along his journey – both human and monster. Rossamünd is the standard young man-boy in search of his own identity as well as an understanding to how the world around him actually works. Far from a black and white world where humans are good and monsters evil, he finds a complex world that runs the spectrum. In a few words of simplistic dialogue Cornish manages to perfectly capture an evil-appearing monster that may not be so evil after all. Just as in a few short scenes an apparently helpful river-runner becomes more thoroughly evil than any monster seen. Rossamünd faces some real internal conflict as his understanding of the world and its people is challenged. At the heart of this conflict is the mysterious lahzar Europe, a woman with the power of electricity described above. Lahzars travel the Half-Continent slaying monsters, and as Rossamünd discovers, they even slay the monsters that may not deserve slaying. The message imparted may serve to reinforce the YA-aim of Foundling but remains equally applicable to the more mature audience.

D.M. Cornish’s Foundling focuses on one relatively small corner of the Half-Continent and the story of one seemingly unremarkable young orphan who sets out to find his place in the world. The tale ends as Rossamünd reaches his post to begin the next stage of life as a lamplighter – a tale told in Monster Blood Tattoo Book 2 – Lamplighter (US, UK, Canada). The relatively short portion of Rossamünd’s life shown in Foundling was thoroughly enjoyable and wonderfully realized and I look forward to sharing more of his adventures in the future. 7.5/10

1 comment:

DWongster said...

I really enjoyed Foundling -- it was a lot shorter than I thought because of the incredibly detailed "glossary/encyclopedia" thing in the last half of the hardcover.

I am now enjoying book 2: Lamplighter

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...