Wednesday, 11 March 2009

‘Foundling’ – D.M. Cornish (Penguin)


Last week I posted pictures of my ‘Reading Pile of Shame’ and invited readers to suggest what they thought I should read next. Larry had good things to say about D.M. Cornish’s ‘Foundling’, a book that I’d been meaning to read for a while now but never got round to (that actually applies to the whole reading pile, not enough hours in the day etc etc...) Larry said that ‘Foundling’ was a “Great, great book and very imaginative”, he’s a guy who knows what he’s talking about so I decided to make ‘Foundling’ the first book to read off the back of the post.
I’m glad I did, ‘Foundling’ was everything that Larry said plus some more...

The unfortunately named Rossamund Bookchild has spent a rather unfortunate childhood as an orphan at Madam Opera’s Estimable Maritime Society for Foundling Boys and Girls. He has been sheltered, thus far, from a world where monsters lurk outside walled cities (and prey on humankind) but this is about to change with his impending recruitment into the Lamplighters, soldiers who protect the Empire’s roads from all evil.
Before Rossamund can become a Lamplighter however, he must make his way across the Half Continent to their base of operations. This is a journey perilous enough for the hardiest of travellers but for a boy who has led a sheltered life and has a habit of getting himself into a lot of trouble...

This hasn’t been the case recently but I generally tend not to read ‘young adult’ books, not through any snobbishness but purely because there’s a whole load of fantasy/sci-fi/horror for adults out there that I want to read first. There’s only so much time to read after all... ‘Foundling’ is very much one of those books that straddles the line between ‘young adult’ and ‘adult’ fiction. Adults could certainly read ‘Foundling’ without having to worry about reading a ‘kids book’, some of the things that we come across in the book are anything but childish...

‘Foundling’ is a very dark and sinister read where the line between good and evil is initially marked clearly and then blurred so much as to be almost illegible. The fact that you get to see this blurring through the eyes of a rather naive child somehow makes it all the more unsettling. Nothing is as it seems, neither the tenets that the Empire is built upon nor the people that Rossamund meets in the course of his travels. Are monsters really that evil? Some might say that they are, why else would they be called monsters? ‘Foundling’ challenges this though by having Rossamund question what he sees happening around him. The only thing I would say here though is that perhaps the secret behind Rossamund’s birth is signposted a little too clearly for what is only the first book in a series. His reactions to certain sights and sounds gave the game away a little for me, although I could still be proved wrong...

The Half Continent is a gloriously grim early industrial age setting full of smugglers, adventurers and evil (looking) monsters all doing what they do best. As a result, ‘Foundling’ overcomes the occasional monotony of Rossamund’s journey (because journeys do get boring when not a lot is happening, a charge that can be levelled at the book from time to time) to become a tale full of strange encounters, fiendish foes and daring chases. This is just my kind of thing and large chunks of the book just flew by as I was so into it. The setting is appropriately gloomy, making certain explosive events come to life even more and also leaving the reader in no doubt that this is a land somehow deserving of the monsters that dwell there. ‘Foundling’ isn’t just a story, it’s also a highly detailed trip through an alien land (ably assisted by a comprehensive glossary and one of the nicer looking maps that I’ve seen in fantasy fiction).

Character wise, Rossamund is our main player and (fittingly) the book is all about him and how he develops as a person after leaving the Marine Society. The boy who reaches the end of the book is not the same boy who started out at the beginning. I’m looking forward to reading the next book ‘Lamplighter’ to see how he develops further.
It’s not just Rossamund who shines though. Every character you meet has a little something that endears you to them and makes you want to meet them again, whether it’s the affable Postman Fouracres or the villainous Captain Poundinch....

Despite its faults, ‘Foundling’ was an immensely enjoyable read. D.M. Cornish is an author where I will definitely be reading more of his works, sooner rather than later...

Eight and Three Quarters out of Ten

1 comment:

Plinydogg said...

Glad you enjoyed these books too! They are seriously underrated! I gave them both 10/10, the first time I've ever given an author a second 10/10. I hope you enjoy Lamplighter!