Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Pagan in Exile

Pagan in Exile

Catherine Jinks
For ages 12 to and up
Candlewick Press, 2004   ISBN: 978-0763620202

Jerusalem has fallen to the soldiers of Saladin. Pagan Kidrouk and his master, Lord Roland Roucy de Bram, are in Lord Roland’s homeland seeking knights for a new Crusade to free the holiest of cities from the hands of the infidel. It is hard to know what Lord Roland’s squire expected in his master’s home in the south of France but it certainly was not what they find when they arrive.

Lord Roland’s father, brothers and their families and retainers live in such squalor and have such uncouth manners and ways that Pagan is appalled. How can his almost saintly master come from such a family? It is clearly a waste of time to think that this crowd of unbelieving savages will have any interest in freeing Jerusalem from the clutches of the infidel. Pagan is all for leaving as quickly as possible. He also begins to feel afraid of the effect that Lord Roland’s family is having in his master. They are like a disease, corrupting and evil and Pagan wants to get his master away from their influence as soon as he can.

Then the situation gets very complicated when a local dispute breaks out between Lord Roland’s father and the nearby abbey. People are killed and Lord Roland cannot bring himself to leave until he has done his best to find a resolution to the problem. However, the stubbornness of the Abbot and of Lord Roland’s father is such that the dispute only escalates.

Pagan is the most honest of narrators. His voice is funny, vibrant, and it gives us a vivid picture of his world which is often dreadfully realistic. His first hunt leaves Pagan sick at heart and in the stomach, and there is no doubt that the living conditions in Lord Roland’s childhood home disgusts the boy from Jerusalem. The people who live in that home don’t impress him either. They are cruel, crude, often barbaric, and have very little respect for anyone outside their family circle. Pagan has such a wonderful sense of the ironic. He sees the things in life that make it pitiful on the one hand, and yet worth living on the other. He also sees the greatness in people and his love for his master is complete. For Lord Roland he will risk his life again and again and for Lord Roland he will overcome his greatest fears. By the end of the book it is very hard not to feel great pride for this street boy from Palestine who has such a sharp tongue, quick wit, and big heart.

Catherine Jinks has once again given us a book that is hard to put down, is often deeply disturbing, and that leaves one wondering what Pagan and his master will do next. The savagery and often barbarity of the times can be difficult to read about as can the hypocrisy of the so-called men of God. There certainly are parallels with our own times, where men kill in the name of religion, failing to see that in so doing, they defile the very faith they profess to follow. Thought-provoking, even tear-jerking, this is a book that cannot to too highly recommended.