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Monday, July 16, 2018

The Inquisitor's Tale: Or, The Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog by Adam Gidwitz, illuminated by Hatem Aly

The Inquisitor's TaleThe Inquisitor's Tale is the story of three magical children, a resurrected holy dog, and religious corruption during the Crusades, all told in the style of The Canterbury Tales. Some people claim that the children, Jeanne, Jacob, and William, are saints because they can perform miracles, while others insist that they must be witches who are using evil magic. The children meet up on the road to the monastery of Saint-Denis, where they set off to try to prevent the burning of a number of sacred Jewish books. The story is told as a series of tales from people who witnessed different parts of the story, and not from the children themselves. Each chapter is from the perspective of a different adult (The Brewster, The Innkeeper, The Nun) as they joke that they need more food and wine to keep up their strength for tale telling.

This is definitely a book for 5th grade and up. Some 4th graders might enjoy it, but there are scenes that might be too scary for younger readers. In the first half of the book, one of the characters witnesses his village being slaughtered due to religious differences, the dog is killed over a misunderstanding (she is later resurrected, but it was still pretty jarring) and then venerated as a saint because she was such a good dog and they were sorry that they had killed her, and a character must endure a bullying teacher preaching religious intolerance and racism. There are a lot of conversations about race: William's father is a French lord fighting in the Crusades, and he fell in love with a Muslim woman. William was delivered to the monastery to be raised by monks as a result, and he endures a lot of prejudice based on his skin color and height. The anti-Semitic opinions of a majority of the characters may also upset younger readers who, like Jacob, will correctly think it is massively unfair that Jews in the book are mistreated and slandered.

Ultimately, The Inquisitor's Tale is a good adventure story that kept me engaged throughout. It is often unexpectedly funny, either from witty text or from sheer goofiness (at one point, the dog poops in a fireplace). Even violent parts are occasionally darkly, over the top funny, such as the scene where William, who has exceptional strength, beats a man to death with someone else's leg. The book also has a number of important messages about tolerance, namely that it is entirely necessary, and points out inequality in race, religion, income, and power. It is an occasionally dark, funny, often hopeful story that will be beloved by young historians, and it may spur an interest in studying the middle ages.

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