Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Pagan's Crusade

Pagan's Crusade

Catherine Jinks
Historical Fiction  Series
For ages 12 and up
Candlewick Press, 2004   ISBN: 978-0763625849

When he first arrives at the doors of the Order of the Temple in the great city of Jerusalem, Pagan Kidrouk looks like a street urchin. Just sixteen years old, Pagan has had a very checkered life, one full of hardship, cruelty, vice, and little kindness. Pagan has little reason to trust people, to find goodness in them, or to even grow attached to anyone.

Jerusalem in 1187 is a city of holy places on the one hand, and a city of beggars, thieves, corruption and poverty on the other. After he is taken in by the Templar knights, Pagan finds himself in the employ of an almost saint like knight called Lord Roland Roucy de Bram. In his sarcastic and witty way, Pagan calls his new master "Saint George,” often finding the pure and honorable ways of the knight hard to believe. Pagan himself views the world in a very different light, seeing only the grime, the misery, and the corruption.

As Lord Roland's squire, Pagan must accompany him when the knight escorts a group of pilgrims from Jerusalem to the River Jordan and back. These are difficult times when pilgrims are often attacked by infidels, and the Templar Knights are needed to protect the pilgrims as the travel through the Holy Land.

No sooner are Lord Roland and Pagan back in Jerusalem when terrible news arrives. The greatest Infidel of them all, Saladin, has crossed the River Jordan and taken one of the cities. Then Acre falls. It is not long before Saladin is at the very walls of Jerusalem itself and Lord Roland finds himself leading both the Templar knights and playing a large role in the future of the great city. It is at this time that Pagan learns that he is capable of new emotions; Pagan discovers that he can feel pity and that he can care for someone else.
Written from Pagan's point of view and in his own voice, "Pagan's Crusade" is an extraordinary book. As we read we laugh, feel shocked, and feel pity all at the same time. The author shows us, through Pagan's eyes, how harsh life was in the time of the crusades and how distorted each side's view was of the other. It is only when they are face to face, that the two sides see and hear that they are in fact not that different.

Just as the players in this conflict learn to see each other through new eyes, we also learn that Infidel and Christian were much alike. When Jerusalem was taken from the Muslims terrible crimes against its people were committed by the Christians. Now, in turn, Saladin's soldiers are eager to have their revenge, but their leader has other ideas.

As readers close this first book in a series of four, they are left with two thoughts. One is to wonder what Pagan and his master will do next, and the other is to consider all the things that men have done in the name of religion.