By now, so much has been written about, and so many accolades have been awarded to this exceptional book, that it seems superfluous to “review” it, and yet, just as there is pleasure in re-reading it, there is no harm in reminding those who have yet to pick it up that it is definitely time. Why so much praise? Because it is unique in middle-grade children’s literature. What other book combines so many elements for the benefit of narrative, including a progression of storytellers, fantastical characters, medieval history, religious intolerance and a sacred quest, not to mention fire, quicksand, holy relics, a saintly dog, fast-paced adventure, and lots of kid-friendly humor both goofy and gross. It is the Inquisitor who begins the tale, sitting down at an inn one night in the year 1242, seeking to learn the whereabouts of three children against whom King Louis XI has declared war. Like comic book superheroes, each child is blessed with a power: Jeanne, a peasant girl, has visions of the future; William, a biracial giant of a boy raised in a monastery, summons superhuman strength; and Jacob, an orphaned Jew, possesses the gift of healing. The three are pursued because of their shared crusade to rescue a copy of the Talmud after the King, a Catholic, orders that all Jewish books be burned. Amidst all their escapades and encounters with dragons, fiends, brigands and foes, it is the children’s common belief in the rightness of their deed that allows them to see beyond their differences and solidifies their friendship. Rich in medieval history and lore, as well as meaningful discourse on religious and racial intolerance, this is a book that almost defies description, but when author Adam Gidwitz was asked what kids like about it most, he answered, “the adventure.” Includes an extensive Author’s Note, as well as dramatic illustrations in the style of an illustrated manuscript.
Highly recommended for ages 10 and up.