Sunday, March 04, 2007

Monster Blood Tattoo: Book One Foundling

Cornish, D.M. 2006. Monster Blood Tattoo Book One: Foundling.

About the book: BBYA 2007 (selected to be on the Best Books For Young Adults selected by the American Library Association)

Here are my tips on how not to read Monster Blood Tattoo Book One: Foundling. If you follow them you should have a much easier time in actually reading the novel and enjoying it.

1) Once you start FOUNDLING, do not pick up any other book to read.
2) Especially do NOT interrupt your reading of FOUNDLING by beginning the Bartimaeus Trilogy by Jonathan Stroud. I suppose for the brave of heart, you could try bending the rules and picking up another book...but only if you're entirely confident that it will prove boring and dull.
3) Never check out too many fantasy series at the same time. For the truth is, you will have to renew in the end...
4) Don't check out a copy of FOUNDLING from your library that smells. It will prove distracting in your reading of the novel. In fact I'll change that to avoid checking out ANY novel that smells from your local library. (Although the truth is, I don't know if it is the ink that smells, the paper that smells, or if this particular book spent time at someone's home and picked up a weird smell along the way.)

Not all monsters look like monsters.
Some everyday folk are the worst monsters of all...

I checked out FOUNDLING on Valentine's Day. At the time, I didn't notice the smell...and I knew that it was a BBYA selection. I also checked out books one and two of the Bartimaeus trilogy by Stroud. I began reading Foundling that Friday or Saturday. It took me a little over two weeks to read. I finished last night (March 3rd) around 11 at night. It is about a young boy named Rossamund (think along the lines of 'A Boy Named Sue') who is a foundling--hence the title--who is mercilessly teased by his peers for having a girl's name. He has a few friends at the foundling home where he lives--teachers, servants, and/or miscellaneous staff whose job titles I can't remember offhand. It is set in a fantasy world obviously. And in this world ruled by an Emperor, there are certain people (many different types of people) whose job is to kill monsters. The cities--especially the big cities--are mostly safe. But monsters are a real problem--a real threat or danger--in many locations of the Empire. In his boyish dreams, Rossamund daydreams now and then about what it would be like to see monsters, fight monsters, kill monsters, and essentially have a life filled with adventure. It doesn't seem likely, but it's only a daydream. He knows that reality will be a boring apprenticeship somewhere...only a few are really lucky to be assigned exciting tasks. Around page thirty or so, Rossamund receives his apprenticeship or job commission. He is going to be a lamplighter. He's not thrilled. He had hoped to go to sea as a pirate of sorts...but it's a job...and it will take him away from the childish bullies. Thus begins the journey that has no end.

When he sets off on his journey, he is told to find a certain ship/shipmaster (captain) who will take him safely to his new city. Unfortunately, Rossamund is a bit naive and foolish. He hops on the first ship he sees--apparently--tells the captain what ship and captain (name) he's supposed to find. He is wanting, I suppose, to either find out if he's in the right place or if it turns out he is in the wrong place he hopes to find directions to the right place. Such trust in humanity. The wrongcaptain pretends to be the right one...and assures this young, vulnerable person to come aboard his ship. Many things don't add up. The crew calls him by a different name. The vessel or ship has a different name than what he's been told. He sees the captain lying to officials. He overhears things he shouldn't. There are a million warning signals going off...but he is a bit slow in realizing his mistake. (My guess is the average reader would know after two or three pages...what it takes Rossamund a hundred to find out...)

When he finally does realize his mistake, he manages to escape undetected for the most part. So now the reader has one wet, confused, foolish hero on a quest to reach his new home/city. He eventually dries off but his foolish, confused haze remains. He keeps meeting strangers--some trustworthy, some not--and his journey continues. I will not be the sort that tries purposefully to ruin the book by detailing everything. Needless to say he mighthappen to meet a few monsters along the way, he might happen to witness some fights and killings of said monsters. He might happen to befriend a famous monster-killer. But even so, his purpose remains unclear and unfocused. Does he or doesn't he want to be a lamplighter? Does he or doesn't he like monsters? Does he or doesn't he trust his new monster-slaying friend? Does he or doesn't he want to get to his new job? Are monsters good? Are monsters bad? Should you judge them individually? Should you judge them by kind? Should you judge them by intention? So probably from page 40 or so until page 300 he wanders somewhat aimlessly finding himself in and out of danger and in and out of adventures of every sort.

The last few pages of the novel essentially say, "Wow, what an exciting week I've had. I can't believe it's only been 5 days" or however many days it says. Here is what it actually says, "At last, for better or for worse, he was where he originally destined, to finally become a lamplighter. Tomorrow he would wake to the beginning of a whole new life." (p. 312) So my first reaction besides "Finally, it's over!" was one that concluded...I could have condensed those two hundred or so pages into about twenty and been equally satisfied. Upon further thought...I realized that FOUNDLING was much too similar to THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING. At the end of FELLOWSHIP you knew your story had barely begun. None of the "good" parts...the "best" parts...had happened yet. You knew that it was just getting started. You thought that you would like what was to come...what was to happen next...but you were left thinking that the whole movie had essentially been one very long and slightly boring prologue and first chapter. There was no climax. There was no "this is so wonderful" was all building up for something that wasn't going to happen in that book/movie. It was all to prep you for the next book...the next movie. I felt that with FOUNDLING. Plus, I had a hard time coming to care for the hero Rossamund. I didn't dislike him, but he just didn't grab me. Much like I didn't care for Frodo. That is an understatement actually. People who really know me know that I hate Frodo. Don't get me wrong. I love LOTR. I love almost every other 'good guy' character. But I never got past Frodo's increasingly frustrating and pathetic stupidity. It was his companions, his friends, who made the book (and movie) GREAT at least for me. I hope that Cornish introduces some compelling and likable characters to be his companions. The highlight of FOUNDLING for me--really the redemptive part for me--was the introduction of the postman Fouracres. Him I cared about and liked. Keeping up the comparing and contrasting with Fellowship, I will add this. My first response to watching FELLOWSHIP OF THE RINGS was how incredibly boring and pointless it was. I had rented it. I didn't know what to expect. I'd heard it was long and boring. I'd heard it was great. I'd heard that they wasted too much time talking. But I wanted to see it and judge for myself. I had no desire to buy it or see it again....that is until I rented THE TWO TOWERS. Suddenly, LOTR wasn't wasn't was great. It was interesting. It was wonderful. It was something I wanted to own and watch again and again. I loved the characters--all except Frodo who I still hated. It made me actually want to BUY the book and read it too. So looking at it that way, there is hope for FOUNDLING. Maybe Book Two will make me go WOW. Maybe it will prove itself by an incredible sequel. Too much is left undone and unfinished for me to be wowed by the first book.

What I liked about the book. This may seem completely silly and random, but I like the idea of this book. The website is great. The whole animated intro is great...the message is great: "Not all monsters look like monsters. Some everyday folk are the worst monsters of all..." And I absolutely love the site's about the author page which begins: D.M. Cornish was born in time to see the first Star Wars movie. He was five. It made him realize that worlds beyond his own were possible, and he failed to eat his popcorn. Experiences with C.S. Lewis, and later J.R.R. Tolkien, completely convinced him that other worlds existed, and that writers had a key to these worlds. But words were not yet his earliest tools for storytelling. Drawings were. It goes on, of course, but I won't cut and paste it all. But the point is...the book looks like it would be great and wonderful...and well, magical. And the illustrations are good. Everything about the site would make me want to pick up the book and read it. Which leads me to conclude the following...FOUNDLING probably is a good novel...if you're not frustrated about a book's smell AND if you're not distracted and dying to read THE AMULET OF SAMARKAND instead. So if you follow my advice and learn from my mistakes AND if you like fantasy in general...FOUNDLING may be the book for you!

I hate to say this--I really do--but maybe just maybe it would be better to read FOUNDLING once the second book has been released. Maybe having the second book there on hand would add strength and substance to the first book. Because honestly, you finish book one and you're thinking to yourself...that's it...there's no more to the story than that...when is it going to get to the good stuff...when does his new exciting life begin...when will something HAPPEN...and if book two was there to complete what book one action-filled plot and a story that moves more quickly...and have more monsters too...then it might take away some of the disappointment. (Book one they talk and talk and talk about monsters, but the percentage of monsters is actually quite small for the most part.)

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