Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

The Book of the Lion

The Book of the Lion

Michael Cadnum
For ages 13 and up
Penguin, 2001   ISBN: 978-0142300343

Edmund's master, a moneyer who mints coins for the king, has been caught making coins that are not as pure as they should be. His punishment is severe and it looks as if Edmund too will pay a stiff penalty for being associated with a counterfeiter. And then, just in time, Edmund is handed over to a knight called Sir Nigel who needs a new squire. And so Edmund, who has never handled a sword or ridden a horse, finds himself having to adapt to a whole new way of life.

Matters are made all the more complicated when Edmund's master leaves England to join King Richard for a crusade in the Holy Land. For Edmund the journey so far from the only life he has ever known is a bewildering one. He makes some dangerous mistakes, and in Venice he gets so befuddled with wine that he affronts a very powerful man. Thankfully Edmund's master saves him from an unfortunate end.

Nothing that Edmund has experienced in life so far prepares him for what he finds in the Holy Land. He discovers that the men who are supposed to be his enemies are not monsters and brutes. He discovers too that many of the men who are supposed to be his comrades in arms are savages who have no sense of decency. How can the line between right and wrong be so blurred?

Readers who have an interest in medieval history will find this book fascinating. Michael Cadnum gets inside the skin of his teenage boy character so well, and he shows his readers that war in the past was just as terrible and at times confusing as it is now. The crusaders were men who had their own agendas, and all too often the way they did things was quite simply horrifying. There are upsetting moments in the story, but there are also others that are powerful and hopeful.