Source: Children Come First

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The second book in D.M. Cornish's Monster Blood Tattoo series, Lamplighter, is as engrossing as book one and should grab middle grade students' attention just as much. [ISBN: 978-0399246395; Putnam Juvenile; May 1, 2008; Ages 9-12]

Lamplighter has enough adventure-filled pages to keep boys interested in reading it. With the addition of Threnody to the cast, girls will also find this a good read. Threnody is a valiant young girl determined to make it in a man's world. As the first female ever to be allowed to be a lamplighter, she plays a strong counterpart to Rossamund, our protagonist.

Rossamund is an orphan who has received the king's bullion in payment for services he has yet to render. He is now obligated to work at dusk and dawn, to light and douse the lamps that line the King's Highway. This would be a simple enough job to carry out were it not for the monsters who inhabit the land and attack and feed upon travelers. Because of this, lamplighters are also trained as soldiers. Not only does Rossamund's life hang in the balance every time he goes out to do his job, he also faces dangers within the city walls. It's there he must face people in high places, political "monsters" also intent on doing him harm. 

At one level, Lamplighter is a fantastic adventure story that should be made into a film. At a deeper level, it's the story of a boy trying to discover who he is and where he fits in the scheme of things. The power of Lamplighter is that it's written in such a way that it'll be easy for kids of all ages to identify with Rossamund's fears, challenges, failures, defeats, and victories. Monsters are monsters, regardless of what shape they come in. They are things in life that scare us, especially when we're young. It's wonderful to see someone like Rossamund face his fears--though sometimes in spite of himself and this makes it all the more comical to watch--and by trial and error overcome both the fears coming at him from the outside world and those emanating from his own insecurities.

The cast of characters in Lamplighter is well put together. It was wonderful to meet again Rossamund's old school teachers as well as Lamplighter's Agent Sebastipole, who first recruited Rossamund into the King's service and Europe, the Branden Rose, the powerful and feared teratologist. These friends play a much more significant role in Rossamund's life this time around. 

In Lamplighter we also meet Lamplighter-Sergeant Grindrod as a gruff taskmaster who does have the welfare of those under him in mind. A most intriguing character shows up in Numps, who is thought to be a madman by many and it's up to Rossamund to decide whether or not he is. There are new comrades-at-arms and friends from the most unlikely places that cross Rossamund's path throughout the story. Rossamund's life is touched one way or the other by these encounters and so, by default, is the reader. Through it all, with old and new friends and enemies coming in and out of Rossamund's life, Cornish still manages to keep the spotlight on Rossamund, the rightful protagonist in the story.

As he did in book one, Cornish takes back story and extra information that could easily slow down the storyline and puts it in the Explicarium at the end of the book. This "glossary of terms and explanations including appendices" goes on for 114 pages. It is there for readers to explore if they want to.

At a time when the online conversation is whether a Newbery winner "should offer readers delight and instruction in equal measure," here's a title that unassumingly but assuredly manages to deliver both. 

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