Christopher was taken from the orphanage where he grew up to become an apprentice to Master Benedict, an apothecary in 17th century London. Christopher loved working in the workshop and learning about the different capabilities of the various ingredients stored there. He created medicines that helped heal various afflictions, but he also got himself into trouble too. All it took was one homemade cannon, a best friend, and a stuffed bear. But all is not entirely good in Christopher’s world. There is someone murdering apothecaries but torturing them first. Christopher soon finds himself in the middle of the worst possible danger and left with only a trail of cyphers and clues to help him figure out who to trust.
Sands manages to create a rip-roaring adventure story and yet keep it true to a historical mystery set in the 17th century. Readers are immersed in the hierarchies of the apothecary guild, the complex political world, and the desperation of being an orphan and having no place to live in London. There are unlikely heroes, crafty booksellers, kind madmen, and plenty of villains. The book catapults readers into the story, leaving them breathless with the vaudeville humor of the story, gasping as the pace gets even faster, and holding on by their fingernails as the story twists and turns.
Christopher is a great character. He is smart as can be, solving cyphers and puzzles as well as figuring his way out of impossible situations. He is also brave, enduring real danger for the sake of what he believes in and what his master taught him. Add to that a humble nature that makes him a good friend and a tendency to find trouble. Other characters are compelling too, from his best friend who has real depth to his character to the villains who have complicated reasons for what they do. It’s a book that reads as a puzzle that readers must decipher.
It’s a wild delight of a novel that will have young readers captivated thanks to its chemical mix of science and historical fiction. Appropriate for ages 10-13.
Reviewed from ARC received from Aladdin Books.