Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Book Review: Foundling by DM Cornish

Think Oliver Twist meets Dungeons and Dragons, right down to the naïve, constantly bullied orphaned boy protagonist and the long (parenthesis – and em-dash – riddled) explanations of terminology and fauna. Mix in a spoonful of steampunk and you’ve basically got the book spot-on.

Please bear with me, as I read this book in two hours while waiting for the paranoia regarding ducks and construction workers faded (the Eastern Shore is riddled with dangers, me hearties!).

Rossamund is a boy with a girl’s name (and a mysterious past, wooooo) and naturally he is teased for it, but it doesn’t matter because he perseveres through the beatings and taunts. For seriously, there’s a beat-down in the first chapter and he’s up and about in the next. Anyway, the adults at Madam Opera’s house for ‘foundling’ (orphan) children like him, so when Sebastispole, a lamplighter (a sort of soldier who’s in charge of lighting lamps along the Half-Continent’s version of a super-highway) turns up and offers Rossamund a job in the happy brigade, they send Rossamund off with a pat on the head and all sorts of goodies to help him fight against the ‘nickers’ and ‘bogles.’ (Big monsters and little monsters.)

If you can muscle your way past the knee-jerk reaction, though, Foundling turns out to be a charming read. There’s nothing new in the story here – like I said, it’s very reminiscent of Oliver Twist and other orphaned boy stories. Cornish’s talent lies in worldbuilding, and the appendix in the back is at least a quarter of the book itself. That includes the glossary. Cornish has also provided drawings of various characters, and I’ll admit I’m a sucker for author drawings.

Rossamund eventually falls in step with a woman named Europe, who can shoot lightening from her body thanks to a series of mysterious surgeries. She’s also loaded.

A bunch of crazy stuff happens. They fight monsters. Rossamund is shanghaied aboard a pirate vessel. There is blood and gore and adventure and throughout it all Rossamund stays almost unbelievably naïve and trusting in everyone he meets.

If you’re going to read Foundling, read it for the world Cornish has built, and not for Rossamund’s story. The Half Continent is enchanting, if dangerous, and the amount of care and passion poured into its construction is inspiring. But be aware that Rossamund ultimately takes a back seat to the creatures and people he encounters. Foundling, in all, is a solid three and a half out of five. I’ll probably read it again.

DM Cornish also has written the second book to The Monster-Blood Tattoo series, titled Lamplighter, which is available right now.


Nancy said...

His illustrations are amazing too!

Donna said...

I felt the same way but was a little less enthusiastic about it. Loads of kudos for this worldbuiding but for the story, I was less than impressed and really kind of peeved that despite everything Rossamund went through, he didn't grow at all.

Plus I felt had by the flap blurb. I was expecting this story to be the lamplighter tale, not the journey to it so I was disgruntled from that as well.