Forgotten Favorites: Remembering the Monster Blood Tattoo Series
To Do in 2017:
Get The Winged Girl of Knossos back in print Watch America finally come to grips with the true glory that is Frances Hardinge
- Get America to now appreciate Monster Blood Tattoo . . .
That’s the nice thing about a To Do list. You can always find something new to put on it. Things you never even thought would come to pass pop up and even though you didn’t have diddly over squat to do with them (see: Winged Girl of Knossos & Frances Hardinge) you feel some odd sense of accomplishment.
America’s current love affair with Hardinge is particularly satisfying since it comes after so much time. When Ms. Hardinge premiered on the U.S. publishing scene with Harper Collins a little less than a decade ago, the company wasn’t quite sure what to do with her. Appropriate for middle grade readers but with complex texts more akin to the tastes and preferences of YA, she fell into that nebulous grayscape where no one knew how to market her. She didn’t slot neatly into categories either. Her books were too unique. Too strange. Too weird. And so America stopped publishing her altogether while in Europe her star was on a continual rise. It wasn’t until Abrams decided to dedicate themselves heart and soul to her publicity that things took a turn for the better. It’s amazing what a gorgeous cover and a dedicated sales team can do (particularly when it comes from the company that brought the world Diary of a Wimpy Kid).
Watching Ms. Hardinge attain all the sales and awards she deserves is deeply satisfying. Imported authors, even if they originally write in the English language, are at a strict disadvantage in America. They can’t continually tour as easily, meet with local booksellers and schools, or promote themselves to the same degree. They get a visit to a book conference of some sort if they’re lucky . . . and then if their book belongs to a large publisher with a lot of money it’s entirely up that publisher’s sales team to get them into the hands of librarians and teachers and, by extension, readers. This isn’t to say that there haven’t been successful imports. Cornelia Funke, in her prime, made mad bank. Shaun Tan had the extra added advantage of being a genius. And thanks to J.R. Rowling, wildly successful imports became a little more acceptable.
Which brings us to D.M. Cornish.
We all have our favorite books or authors that didn’t quite do as well as we thought that they should the first time around. I have lots in my back pocket, but I find that often they do well later on in life without me. Author Laini Taylor started her career with a series called The Faeries of Dreamdark, which I thoroughly enjoyed when it came out, and she turned out all right. Hardinge’s another example. But some books that I adored have stayed nice and obscure and haven’t budged from their low-level obscurity. The Monster Blood Tattoo series is precisely that.
The trilogy debuted in 2008 and churned out the following books: Foundling, Lamplighter, and Factotum. Each novel is set in the strange world of the Half-Continent. It’s a world where humans have made in-roads putting down stakes in lands where monsters are known to attack regularly. Our hero is an orphan (naturally) named Rossamund who aspires to someday join with his people to defeat the monster scourge. As the books go on, however, Cornish begins to play with our expectations. We think we’re getting into a standard series where people fight monsters, when in fact it’s actually about colonization. When Rossamund comes to understand the cruelty humans are capable of when it comes to their monstrous foes, as well as the fact that they really don’t know ANYTHING about them, he undertakes a shift in his soul that’s nicely played out. Add in one of the most kick-ass female characters to grace YA pages in years and a world of such detail and complexity that it would make Hardinge proud, and you’ve got yourself (and I don’t use this term lightly) a book series that’s a true gem.
To be fair, Penguin did right by him, at first. They made him a nice little website that no one has touched in about nine years. When his initial cover didn’t seem to sell him they tried new ones. All for naught, I’m afraid. Sadly the series is now entirely out-of-print here in the States and insofar as I can tell there are no plans to bring it back to life. I have no idea how well it’s done in Cornish’s native Australia (the book is, in many ways, a close examination of the effects of colonization in Australia on the native population) but to my infinite delight, Cornish hasn’t abandoned the series himself. He recently updated his blog with the beginning of a favorite character’s backstory, a fact that may give us hope in this cold, cruel world.
And so, Santa, if I could have only one thing for Christmas I should like very much for this series to be republished. Make it straight up YA if it helps (like Hardinge, Cornish falls right in the center of middle grade and YA). Follow in the footsteps of the Hardinge releases and re-releases. Give them even better book jackets than before. And for those of you that missed it the first time, go out to your local libraries and give them a read. Delight synthesized.
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About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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