The Sunday Salon (Dec. 11): REVIEW: Pagan's Crusade by Catherine Jinks

The Sunday Salon.com 158. Pagan’s Crusade by Catherine Jinks
Publication: Allen & Unwin (May 17, 2010), originally published 1992, ebook, 246pp / ISBN 9780763620196
Genre: YA Historical Fiction (could also be MG, I suppose)

Read: November 30-December 1, 2011
Source: Singapore Public Library

Summary from Amazon:

Down on his luck and kicked in the pants one too many times, sixteen-year-old Pagan Kidrouk arrives on the doorstep of the Templar Knights in medieval Jerusalem, looking for work as a squire. He’s expecting only some protection from the seedier aspects of life on the street and a few square meals. Instead, Pagan finds himself hard at work for Lord Roland de Bram – an exciting life of polishing Lord Roland’s armor, laundering his garments, and even training to fight by his side.

But as the Infidel Saladin leads his army to Jerusalem, it becomes more and more difficult for Pagan and Lord Roland to discern what action to take or whom to trust. Neither Saladin’s army nor the Christian Crusaders offer easy answers. Is a bloody battle for control of the Holy City inevitable?

Review

Things I love: historical fiction, the medieval era, and snarky protagonists. This book? Is all those things! Yay!

I’ve actually been wanting to read this series for a while, ever since I read and enjoyed CJ’s Evil Genius. Evil Genius is set in the modern times and it’s a action/thriller sort of thing; Pagan’s Crusade, meanwhile, is set during the medieval period and is a historical fiction/humor sort of thing. Pagan, the protagonist, is funny and insightful and would probably be a satirist who wrote funny columns for a newspaper if he were alive today. Instead, he’s an orphaned ex-thief/gambler/etc. who’s now a squire for a knight who’s so knightly he might as well have holy light shining out of his butt. He knows how to read (having been raised by monks) but doesn’t do much writing, and he spends most of his time trying to keep his knight from going off and doing stupid (in Pagan’s viewpoint) things like sacrificing himself for a few babies or something.

The author

The interesting thing about this book is that a) it’s set in Jerusalem, which hasn’t really played all that big of a role in the other YA historical fiction books I’ve read, and b) it’s realistic about medieval life without going over the top in either grossness, sadness, or death. There are gross, sad, dead things, sure, but the focus isn’t on them– it’s on the characters and how they deal with those things, as well as their relationships with each other.

Pagan, who is one of those characters who would seem out of place with his “modernness” if he wasn’t so enmeshed in his surroundings, comes off as annoying and fantastic at the same time. He’s a squire, and he’s an orphan and all the rest, but he’s not entirely disadvantaged. He can see things clearly when other people are blinded by greed, or faith, or some other thing like that. The knight attributes that to Pagan being able to read, reading being a thing that expands your mind and makes you ask questions.1 His relationships with everyone else depends on that ability to see clearly, and it actually makes for some really good reading.

For instance! When Saladin (aka Ṣalāḥ ad-Dīn Yūsuf ibn Ayyūb) shows up to conquer Jerusalem, everyone (including Pagan) thinks they’re going to die horribly and/or become slaves and then die horribly anyway. And some of them do die horribly! But most of them don’t, and then when Saladin takes over he does something interesting. He ransoms off everyone living in Jerusalem. He frees a ton of them from their ransom, too, and lets other people (such as one of the head Templar dudes) free more citizens. The knights and citizens don’t know exactly why he’s doing it, except maybe to mess with their heads, but Pagan sees– Pagan knows why.

I’ll let you read the book yourself to find out what Pagan sees in Saladin, and I hope that when you read it you enjoy yourself. It’s a nice historical fiction book which, on the surface, seems like another humorous take on what life was like back then. But, if you dig a little deeper, you’ll see that there’s more than that in this book. It’s not just about medieval Jerusalem and the crusades. It’s about people, and religion, and what happens when those two things meet. It’s about friendship and duty and being a good person even when you think you aren’t. And it’s about finding humor when you can, too. I think Pagan would agree with me that probably the last one is the most important, haha!

Rating


All the really exciting stuff happens at the end, but overall I liked it!

Buy

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Weekly Book Stats

Books read this week:
160. Miranda’s Big Mistake – Jill Mansell [rating: 3] e
161. A Map of Home – Randa Jarrar [rating: 3.5] e
162. Weetzie Bat – Francesca Lia Block [rating: 1.5] e
163. Hunted – Cheryl Rainfield [rating: 3] e
164. Pastworld – Ian Beck [rating: 2.5] e
165. Ascension – Kara Dalkey [rating: 3.5] e
166. Reunion – Kara Dalkey [rating: TBD] e

Books reviewed this week:
156. Inside Out – Maria V. Snyder [rating: 2] e
157. Princess of the Midnight Ball – Jessica Day George [rating: 2] e

eBooks acquired this week:

Currently reading:
I’m planning on reading the third book in Kara Dalkey’s Water trilogy today. I’ve enjoyed the other two and I think I’ll like this one, as well. They’re got mermaids and magic and some sort of Merlin thing going on, and the characters (the protagonists, I mean) are really adorable and also kind of kick ass. I also LOVE how the emphasis is on the action/conspiracy/plot/etc., and not on the romance (though the romance is also adorable).

Footnotes

  1. The knight, meanwhile, does not know how to read. Seems strange for an other wise advantaged person, but I think nobility not knowing how to read was more common than you’d think.

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