MONSTER BLOOD TATTOO is an unusual book. Even before I delved into it, I was struck by some of the ways that it's different from other young adult fantasy novels. For one thing, more than a quarter of the book is taken up with an extensive glossary and other appendices. It is also sprinkled with art - typically sketches of characters in the novel. So even before reading a word of the story, I was curious. Surely such an unusual book would be either a magnificent, ground-breaking achievement or a disappointing, confusing disaster, right? Turns out that neither of those lofty expectations panned out. Nonetheless, this is a good, entertaining novel with some interesting characters and a unique approach to the human/monster relationship.
The hero of MONSTER BLOOD TATTOO is an orphan, or in the language of the book, a foundling, named Rossamund Bookchild. He was raised at an orphanage, or rather, a foundlingery, called Madam Opera's Estimable Marine Society for Foundling Boys and Girls. The only clue the boy has about his parents is that someone had pinned a girl's name, Rossamund, to his blankets before abandoning him years earlier. No doubt that is a story in itself, but it will have to wait for future books.
When Rossamund is old enough, he is selected for a career and sent off to begin life away from Madam Opera's Marine Society. While he is pleased to have been chosen for a job and eager to see the world outside the foundlingery's doors, Rossamund also worries that his career as a lamplighter might not be exciting enough for him. But the boy is dutiful, so he gathers his meager belongings and sets off. Rossamund's journey to lamplighter headquarters should be straightforward enough, but he accidentally ends up aboard the wrong ship and things go downhill from there.
The real adventure in MONSTER BLOOD TATTOO is the dangerous path Rossamund follows in an attempt to find his new employer. Along the way, he meets both humans and monsters, but it is often hard to tell one from the other. More than once he is forced to wonder whom he can trust. Just because an individual is human, does that mean he can be trusted, while all monsters can't be? And how should Rossamund think about a beautiful woman who can make lightening with her body and kills for a living?
I liked how this book has few simple answers. Rossamund goes into the world expecting all adults to be as helpful and kind as those who cared for him at the foundlingery. At the same time, he expects all monsters to be evil, bloodthirsty beasts deserving of nothing better than a violent death. He soon learns otherwise, on both counts.
My only real complaints with MONSTER BLOOD TATTOO were minor. First, I occasionally wanted to scream at Rossamund for being a naive fool. Growing up in a sheltered environment is one thing, but blind stupidity is something else entirely. Like when Rossamund got on the wrong boat. I almost put the book down right then and there, figuring that he was about to get what he deserved. But I muddled through and am glad I did.
My other problem in the book was with names. They are often long, complicated, odd, and hard to pronounce. I hate it when fantasy or science fiction authors do that. It's like they're trying to create a sense of other-worldliness by making up words and creating unusual names. In reality, it just makes things hard on readers and discourages parents or children from reading aloud. I mean, a name like Doctor Verhooverhoven? Is this necessary? If the author has done his job, his descriptions have already created a fantasy world in the reader's mind and he need not resort to ploys like impossibly goofy names.
But, those complaints aside, this was a fun novel. It is an interesting story told from an unusual perspective that kept me entertained. Lovers of the young adult fantasy genre should pick up a copy. Since this is "Book One," our young hero has just begun his string of literary adventures. I will be following his journey with interest.