D.M. Cornish explores the fascinating world of the Half-Continent through the eyes of his protagonist Rossamünd in his debut novel, Monster Blood Tattoo: Foundling. Cornish takes a very familiar premise as a launchpad for his story, as may be evident in the title – that of a foundling raised in an orphanage. The difference here is that Madam Opera’s Estimable Marine Society for Boys and Girls is accustomed to helping young children fit into a world filled with monsters. While Cornish’s world may have an almost British feel to it, the world of the Half-Continent has something the British Isles doesn’t – Monsters.
From the outset, the protagonist, Rossamünd, has the deck stacked against him. Not only does he not know his parents, he is besotted with a girl’s name, something his peers don’t let him forget. By placing the story at Rossamünd’s level, Cornish allows the reader to discover his richly-detailed world along with the Rossamünd. While Rossamünd may have some foreknowledge of the world, it is only through hints and books. The reader too, can only go by the hints Rossamünd shares, and the extensive appendices at the end of the book, totaling over one-hundred pages.
The detail and thought put into his world is indeed extensive, Cornish’s many years of building up the world are evident throughout. The early portion of the novel, when Rossamünd is in Madam Opera’s, should connect with the author’s intended audience, young adults. Rossamünd is picked on and has to deal with stringent teachers and adults. He finds solace in the books detailing the monsters in his world, and more specifically the monster hunter’s who earn, with each kill, the titular Monster Blood Tattoo.
With many Young Adult titles, a big part of the book is the packaging. PenguinPutnam, the publishers, have done a very nice job here. The book feels comfortable in your hands and has a nice cover by the author; Cornish started the storyline years ago in notebooks with his own drawings, he is now a professional illustrator. Throughout the novel, his nicely-rendered pencil drawings decorate full pages, in the form of character studies. The illustrations are also peppered in the appendices, providing a very immersive experience for the reader.
On the whole, I found the storyline very familiar, and as a result, a bit predictable. I also had problems with the phonetic spellings of some of the character’s speech patterns, it may prove bothersome for some, fun for others. However, I suspect the book will do very well with younger readers, and I imagine they will have a great deal of fun with the book.
© 2006 Rob H. Bedford