If you asked me if I preferred to read a book with a fantasy setting, or to create a fantasy world, I’d pick creating a fantasy world any day. It’s not often that the two mix; most books with a fantasy setting only really give you a general description, and not since Tolkien (or Rowling) has there been a book or series that gives us a new world to discover, or a lexicon of creatures or exotic plants or whatever else you’d find in a new land. Then there came Monster Blood Tattoo.
From what I’ve heard, author D.M. Cornish spent ten years or so creating the half continent and all it’s creatures, compiling notebooks with definitions, ideas, histories and illustrations. In the back of Foundling, there is also what is called an Expilcarium (Glossary of terms and explanations, including appendices). This is very helpful in learning extra things about the world’s monsters, or picking up the lingo if the definitions at the beginning of each chapter just don’t quite cut it, or if you just plain don’t understand half of what is being said most of the time, although this is very unlikely.
There is a storyline; the book follows Rossamünd Bookchild, an orphan with the misfortune of having a girl’s name, being whisked away form his sad orphan life at Madam Opera’s Marine Society to join the lamplighters; those employed in the Emperor’s service to light lamps in the afternoon on a certain route before the sun sets, and to douse them again at sunrise. The job of a lamplighter is apparently also a dangerous one; monsters and humans aren’t in harmony in the half continent, and as we learn in Foundling, there can (and will) be bloodshed. Rossamünd is supposedly a boy of fourteen, but judging his character in the book, I think he lacks the maturity of one, being overly sensitive at times and not always thinking before he speaks. By the end of the book however, I had the feeling of prediction Rossamünd will mature and grow up much more as the series progresses.
It’s obvious that Monster Blood Tattoo is meant to be a series; when reading Foundling, I could tell the book was much more a part of a greater adventure, than containing one in itself. There is adventure and action, but not as much as there was explanations of things in the cities or of people or jobs or creatures or surroundings. I got sucked into the world more than I did the adventure.
Whilst I did enjoy the book, I do feel it could’ve been done a bit differently. The story slightly lacking in Foundling, I would’ve loved to have more illustrations to supplement my imagining of the half continent, very much like the Dinotopia books (you know, the good ones that are like journals, not those adventure novellas) instead of reading descriptions of everything. There were illustrations mind you, but just not enough to make up for the somewhat dull story. But I most certainly did enjoy it regardless, and I have a feeling Lamplighters will give me much less crapping on about stuff, and get right into the story and adventure I’m craving from this wonderful series.