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<anon I1="BLANK" I2="BLANK">Mark of the Plague CHAPTER 1 "THIS IS A BAD IDEA," Tom said. He stared sidelong at the device at the end of the workbench, as though, if he looked at it directly, it might poke out his eyes. "You don't even know what it does yet," I said. He bit his lip. "I'm pretty sure I don't want to." The contraption did look rather . . . well, odd. It was five inches tall, with a bulging top balanced over a narrow upright cylinder, wrapped tightly in folded paper. The upper part of the device balanced on three wooden prongs sticking out of the bottom. A wick of cannon fuse trailed from its end. "It's like a mushroom," Tom said. "With a tail." He edged away from the workbench. "A flammable tail." I couldn't help feeling slightly wounded. Odd or not, this device was the most important thing I'd ever made. All of the other equipment in the apothecary workshop--the ceramic jars, the molded glassware, the spoons and cups and pots and cauldrons--lay crammed on the side benches, cold and quiet. Only the faint scent of ingredients and concoctions lingered in the room. Even the giant onion-shaped oven in the corner was still. Because this was the creation that would save my shop. I held it up with pride. "Blackthorn's Smoke-Your-Home! Guaranteed to . . . uh . . . smoke your home. Well, that advertisement needs work." "Your brain needs work," Tom muttered. Now that was going too far. "My inventions do exactly what they're supposed to." "I know," Tom said. "That's the problem." "But--look." I put my Smoke-Your-Home back down--gently--and showed him my design, sketched on an unrolled sheet of vellum. "It's like a firework," I said, which in retrospect was probably not the best way to start. Blackthorn's Smoke-Your-Home Invented by Christopher Rowe, Apothecary's Apprentice "You light the fuse at the bottom. The gunpowder in the lower part pops the top into the air. Then the second fuse makes that burst." I swept my arm over it like I was hawking silks at the Royal Exchange. "Fills any room with smoke to keep your family safe! Designed to help drive off the plague!" "Uh-huh," Tom said. I think my theatrics made him less impressed. "Why is it full of flour?" "That's the best part. Watch." I went to the side of the workshop, where I'd stored the two sacks of flour I had left. I grabbed a handful of it and picked up the taper burning on the workbench. When I puffed the flour into it, it burst with a bright flash of flame. "See?" I said. "It explodes. That's what blew up Campden's mill last summer. There was too much flour in the air." Tom pressed his fingers to his forehead. "You based an invention on an exploding mill?" "Well . . . it's less dangerous than gunpowder, right?" Tom didn't seem to think that was a selling point. "Anyway, when the flour explodes, it incinerates the sawdust and herbs, filling the room with smoke. And that smoke is the best thing we know of that will prevent you getting the plague. We can even make them to order, put whatever wood inside the customer wants." "Why couldn't they just make a fire?" Tom said. "You can't just light random fires around your house," I said. "Yes, this seems much safer." "It is," I insisted. "You just have to keep it away from curtains. And oil lamps. And pets. And--look, I'll show you." Tom backed away. "Wait. You're not really going to set that off?" "What else would I do with it?" "I thought you were just playing a joke on me." From high up on the ingredient shelves, a plump salt- and-pepper-speckled pigeon fluttered down to where I stood. She cooed. "That's right, Bridget," Tom said. "Talk some sense into him." Bridget pecked at the cannon fuse. She recoiled with a grunt and took off, wings flapping her up the stairs. "See?" Tom ducked behind the workbench. "Even the bird thinks you're mad." "You're going to regret this when I'm knee-deep in gold," I said. Tom's voice called from behind the wood. "I'll take my chances." I lit the fuse. I watched it crackle and spark, then joined Tom behind the bench. Not because I was worried, of course. It just seemed . . . prudent. The fuse reached the bottom. For a moment, there was nothing. Then the gunpowder ignited. There was a hissing, and sparks shot from the bottom. The cylinder popped into the air. I pulled on Tom's sleeve. "It works! It works!" Then the second charge began to burn. A thin, smoking flame rushed out of the bottom. Slowly, it tipped sideways. Then it rocketed through the door into the shop. "Was that supposed to happen?" Tom said. "Well . . . ," I said, but the correct answer was: no. From the doorway to the shop came a flash. Then a BOOM. The boom was expected. The voice that followed it was not. "AAHHHH!" it said. Excerpted from Mark of the Plague by Kevin Sands All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.</anon>
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Horn Book Review
Apothecary's apprentice Christopher (The Blackthorn Key) is tapped by traveling healer Galen to help produce a plague "cure." Christopher doubts the cure's authenticity and soon uncovers a conspiracy with Galen at the center. Though Sands portrays epidemic-stricken 1665 London as rampant with panic and superstition, Christopher's first-person narration, full of curiosity and humor, makes this fast-paced historical adventure fairly light. (c) Copyright 2017. The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.