I knew it was coming out this year, but it’s been a while since I gleefully bought and read the first two books in the one weekend (I bussed in summer to the shops, because I couldn’t stand the thought of not reading more), and so when I walked into Paperchain recently I nearly exploded with glee and exultation. Finally, with all the beautiful construction and shiny ribbons and beautiful illustrations, it was out!
The Monster Blood Tattoo series (rebranded in the US as The Foundlings Tale or something like that), for those of you who haven’t encountered it yet, is a set of three books concluding with Factotum following the orphan Rossamünd Bookchild at a pivotal time in his life. He has a girl’s name, is facing an exciting and demanding apprenticeship as a lamplighter, and lives in a world where there are real monsters. There’s some wonderful world building and innovation, as well as the good old ‘who’s the real monster’ ethical dilemma that comes up in a lot of fantasy – especially YA stuff. The author began world-building with beautiful sketches, and these have had me revisiting those pages just to get another eyeful.
Perhaps having waited so long and being so excited, it was inevitable that I felt a bit let down. The storytelling was wonderful, and the world was as awesome as it was in the last two books, but my heart was broken to read the ending. There’s action, combat, and a quick barely-there explanation of where everyone ends up going afterwards. I know that Cornish hopes to write more in this universe, but I can’t help but feel the book is missing about ten pages of anti-climax and characterisation. It was, in my mind, an ending that could have worked well with epic poetry or maybe film because often epic poetry is detached, and because films work with their own visual and audio languages to enhance storytelling. In prose, this sort of conclusion just leaves me frustrated, partly because I’ve spent days in these characters heads while reading, and I’ve become emotionally invested, and partly because it says nothing of what actually happens. Everyone moves on with their lives and goes places, but that happens to people everywhere. It’s the experience of it, not the list of it, that really reveals the nuances of memorable events, and that’s what I wanted to be reading in that last chapter.
But as I admitted above, I possibly felt let down because I have loved the first two books so dearly. I do not doubt that my expectations for this third in the series were far higher than they were before I ever came across the MBT series. I loved the new and the old characters, the art, the explicarum, and even just fiddling with the ribbons in my hands idly as I read. I liked the neat circuit that the story took geographically, and I also liked Rossamünd’s personal journey even if he did seem as intuitive and thick as a brick sometimes. I really liked the way that correspondence was handled in a way that really worked for me – but that’s something I could say for the whole series. For all that I griped about the conclusion, I’ll probably end up re-reading this book before the year is out, even with my tall TBR piles.
If you look into these books, don’t settle for the paperbacks. I don’t think you can, yet, for Factotum, but just in case, make sure you get the beautiful and well constructed hardcover edition.
Other reviews of Factotum:
and there’s a few nice ones at goodreads too. This is unsual for me; Factotum is on a lot of bloggers reading lists, but not many blogs I follow have finished it yet. It’s a shame that more people don’t share my desperate excitement for the Monster Blood Tattoo series.