disclaimer: I read this during and after election night, and I think this review could’ve been better, but my level of concentration while reading was negligible. I regret it, because this was a really good book! I left the review, because it was an adequate recall of what the book’s about.
“Whoever destroys a single life is as guilty as though he had destroyed the entire world and whoever rescues a single life earns as much merit as though he had rescued the entire world.”
As I started to read this book I told a few third grade students at school that they might enjoy it. I told them about the Holy Dog, and the three kids who could do magic… But as I continued reading I started to wonder if my recommendation was premature. I don’t mean that this was a bad book; it was the subject matter that had me worried. I wasn’t sure if third graders could handle it, but then I reasoned they read Harry Potter, so what’s the difference between that and this? And then the election happened… Talk about throwing a big old existential crisis in my face…
Yes, this book deals with some hard truths (it was the inquisition): burning people alive, torture, religious persecution, parents dying, animals dying, and martyrdom. Hard truths from the Middle Ages, but could they be relevant today? The answer to that is a resounding: YES! Not so much the tactics, but religious intolerance, hate, murder… We can’t protect our kids from hard truths anymore (see: Sandy Hook). They need to understand this world. They cannot be brought up to believe that a man who haphazardly grabs women’s genital regions, mocks people with disabilities, and calls a group of people rapists is acting decently. Our country just sacrificed decency and morals to a pussy-grabbing demagogue, so this young and vulnerable generation is going to have to learn the hard truths now. No pussy (pun intended)- footing around. They need to know! They need to develop strong morals and empathy for the downtrodden. We need to foster in them a love for all things on this planet, and maybe then, if our generation doesn’t really fuck it up, we might have a glimmer of hope.
So yeah, I recommend this book to young children. They will like it, but make sure you read it with them and answer their questions.
Now what’s this book all about?
It’s about three different kids, their dog, and their journey.
It takes place in the Middle Ages (not to be called the Dark Ages!). The inquisition is happening. So it’s not a great time….
Jeanne is a peasant girl who has seizure- like fits that reveal the future to her.
It’s a miracle.
The Holy Dog is Jeanne’s. Gwenforte is a grey hound that Jeanne’s parents owned when she was a baby. The dog saved little Jeanne from an asp, but was killed by her parents due to a misunderstanding. Later, the parents find out that Gwenforte was actually a hero, and they make her grave a shrine.
Needless to say, many years later, Gwenforte rises from the dead (like Lazarus), and joins the children on their adventure. It’s a miracle.
William is next. He is a monk. He is a giant. He is the son of a French father and a Saracen(medieval term for Muslim) mother. In the monastery William is some-what protected from prejudice, but William is strong- willed, and speaks out against an older monk, which gets him expelled from the monastery.
William is as strong as an ox. It’s a miracle.
Jacob is young, small, and a Jew. Jewish people (imagine this…) are not treated very well in the Middle Ages. One night, young boys burn his village, and his mom and dad sacrifice themselves so Jacob can escape.
Jacob can heal anything with plants and herbs. It’s a miracle.
But miracles mean saints, and to be a saint you must be martyred, and martyrdom sucks! Especially when you’re ten.
There are consequences for performing miracles, and people fear the unknown. (see our current state of affairs)
Like the Bible, The Inquisitor’s Tale is told through witnesses (people the child- saints meet along their journey), and completed by a nun who happens to know things she shouldn’t.
There’s a farting dragon, book burning, daring deeds, a forest of human-like-monster “things”, a devilish monk, quicksand, an evil queen, and a ton of other preposterous stuff that makes this book a really great read.
My one caveat: the author, Adam Gidwitz, wrote a very quick story; he didn’t spare a word. We zip right along, and I will never complain about this kind of writing, but it was so “neat” that I felt like everything wrapped up way too nicely. Bad, bad things happened, and the ending was so sudden that I was left with a BUT on the tip of my tongue.
Also, for anyone who’s ever read Christopher Moore’s Lamb, you might find yourself seeing a few parallels!
Other reasons this book is worth it:
“Jeanne is thinking about something. AT last, she shares it. “William, you said that it takes a lifetime to make a book.”
“One book? A whole lifetime?”
“William nods. “A scribe might copy out a single book for years. An illuminator would then take it and work on it for longer still. Not to mention the tanner who made the parchment, and the bookbinder who stitched the book together, and the librarian who worked to get the book for the library and keep it safe from mold and thieves and clumsy monks with ink pots and dirty hands. And some books have authors, too, like Saint Augustine or Rabbi Yehuda. When you think about it, each book is a lot of lives. Dozens of dozens of them.”
“Dozens and dozens of lives,” Jeanne says. “And each life a whole world.”
“We saved five books,” says Jacob. “How many worlds is that?”
William smiles. “I don’t know. A lot. A whole lot.”
“Life is a song, composed and sung by God. We are but characters in His song.”
“Distinguishing the voice of God and the voices of those around us is no easy task. What makes you special, children, beyond your miracles, is that you hear God’s voice clearly, and when you hear it, you act upon it.”