THE BLACKTHORN KEY (The 2015 Cybils Winner)


Four female – one male protagonist. The settings: London, San Francisco, Vietnam, Mississippi, and Louisiana. Together they make up the five finalists for this year’s Middle Grade Fiction Cybils Awards. This week I have a review of each title:

  • TODAY: THE BLACKTHORN KEY (The Cybils Middle Grade Fiction Winner)

  • Thursday: BLACKBIRD FLY
  • Friday: LISTEN, SLOWLY

The best news is you can win a giveaway of all five hardback finalists by making a comment on any or all of those days (up to five entries). I’ll draw the name this Sunday (Feb. 21) at 6 pm EST. Good luck and now on to this year’s Cybils Middle Grade Fiction Winner… THE BLACKTHORN KEY

This exciting tale of codes, puzzles and a mysterious cult is set in 1600’s London. The story is a page-turnerthe-blackthorn-key-9781481446518_hr told through the eyes of 14-year-old apothecary’s apprentice, Christopher Rowe. He’s happy in his role learning how to make powerful medicines, potions, and weapons from Master Benedict Blackthorn. At the same time, he’s a kid horsing around with his buddy, the baker’s son. But when a string of shocking murders to other apothecaries gets closer and closer to the Blackthorn shop, Christopher must take action. His master knows of a secret that could destroy the world and trusts Christopher with coded messages that will also help him gain that knowledge.

The author, Kevin Sands, really gets the idea of leave them wanting more at the end of each chapter. There are twists and surprises along with some gruesome violence and fights, so reserve this for older MG readers. The BLACKTHORN KEY is a true gift from a great storyteller.


FULL PLOT (From Amazon): Following a series of murders, an apothecary’s apprentice must solve puzzles and decipher codes in pursuit of a secret that could destroy the world in this suspenseful debut novel.

“Tell no one what I’ve given you.”

Until he got that cryptic warning, Christopher Rowe was happy, learning how to solve complex codes and puzzles and creating powerful medicines, potions, and weapons as an apprentice to Master Benedict Blackthorn—with maybe an explosion or two along the way.

But when a mysterious cult begins to prey on London’s apothecaries, the trail of murders grows closer and closer to Blackthorn’s shop. With time running out, Christopher must use every skill he’s learned to discover the key to a terrible secret with the power to tear the world apart.


  1. Tom is the trustful friend Christopher confides his secrets to and is not unlike the friendship two boys in today’s world might have – helping each other with decisions and keeping the other out of harm’s way. Their interactions brought me to a smile many times.
  2. The inclusion of botany, astronomy, and chemistry make a great hook for science loving kids. It might also recruit others who have never had an interest in this area.
  3. Christopher’s voice is modern and funny though not at the expense of historical accuracy.
  4. The pacing is superb and the puzzles are fun to follow along as to their true meaning. After reading the 371 pages,  I’d learned so much about this time period in an enticing and exciting way.
  5. We have the hint of a sequel at the end, and I’m glad to report there is one in the works.

FAVORITE LINES: Tom clasped his hands together and mumbled a prayer. “Jesus, in Your mercy, please protect fools like us. Amen.”

WHO is KEVIN SANDS? Since escaping from university with a pair of degrees in theoretical physics, Kevin Sands has worked as a researcher, business consultant, a teacher, and a professional poker player. He lives in Toronto, Canada. The Blackthorn Key is his debut novel. (Kevin’s Web Site)


Make a comment if you have time and this week you could win all five Cybils Middle Grade Fiction finalists.  You’ll find the comment link below.

Check the links to other Middle Grade novels over at Shannon Messenger’s Marvelous Middle Grade Monday post.


About Greg Pattridge

Climbing another mountain...always striving to reach the next peak in my life and career.
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25 Responses to THE BLACKTHORN KEY (The 2015 Cybils Winner)

  1. You’ve sold me on this one. The cover is awesome too. If I’m not eligible for the giveaway due to being so far away, then that’s cool. Congrats to the winner. The stack of books look great.

  2. So excited that Kevin won. This sounds like an awesome book. I’m going to let someone else win. I’m too behind in my reading.

  3. Violet Tiger says:

    I love this book! It’s awesome. Thanks for doing the giveaway!

  4. Andrea Mack says:

    A great story! So glad to hear there is a sequel in the works!

  5. Susan says:

    i like learning about a time period via fiction! Sounds like a good one.

  6. cleemckenzie says:

    You’ve made me crave these books! Loved the plot and period of The Blackstone Key.

  7. They (the Cybils finalists) are all wonderful and worthy books. I was wondering which one would be chosen as the winner, and this doesn’t disappoint. It was the one I championed most fiercely in the first round deliberations: a great, compelling, read.

  8. I am so, SO looking forward to reading this one this week. And, what an awesome giveaway to have planned to celebrate all the finalists. Congrats to Kevin!

  9. warrchick says:

    This one sounds thrilling! I’m very intrigued, and now left to wonder if I can wait and hope I win, or will have to pick it up sooner. Of course, I know there are lots of books ahead of it in line…why is it that we can’t read all the time, again? lol

  10. msyingling says:

    You all did a great job on the middle grade fiction! What a nice group of diverse titles! Thanks for all of your hard work!

  11. diegosdragon says:

    Congratulations to another author with a great name – Kevin! Seriously, though, I love stories with a master and apprentice, and everything else that gets thrown into the mix. Sounds like The Blackthorn Key is a must read – thanks for the review!

  12. Wow. This sounds amazing. I love books set in that time period and I love a good mystery. Thanks for telling me about it. No drawing for me, though. I just can’t get any more books right now.

  13. Congratulations — you survived the judging. It must have been a difficult choice. What an intriguing book. From your review, I can see why it won. I love time period pieces.

  14. Sounds like a great book! I like the lines you picked to share with us. Thanks for the review! Looking forward to the rest of your reviews this week! 🙂

  15. Ok, I’m sold. I’d love to win a copy–but I think I’ll probably be looking for one at my library before the week is out!

  16. Joanne Fritz says:

    Wait. You mean you’re giving away ALL FIVE BOOKS to one winner? That is one lucky person. I haven’t read this yet, but I’ve heard so much about it, and I love that time period. Your review convinces me that I really need to push this up on the TBR list.

  17. allenbookclub says:

    Oh so little time, so many great reviews. Many students loved the Magic Thief trilogy and this sounds like a more challenging and intense read in that same spirit.

  18. Jennifer says:

    My eight year old son has been reading Book Scavenger. He is loving it. He already wants to hide a book locally to get a game started here. He has also been creating his own ciphers and has really gotten excited about solving the ones in the book along with Emily and James.

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