The Minstrel's Tale

Berit I. Haahr, Author Delacorte Press Books for Young Readers $15.95 (256p) ISBN 978-0-385-32713-8
This first novel, set in 14th-century England, succeeds more as an extended fairy tale than a work of historical fiction. When 13-year-old Lady Judith meets her intended husband at her betrothal banquet, she is repulsed by his base behavior. She decides, at the prompting of one of the King's minstrels, who entertains at the banquet and notes the girl's musical talent, to disguise herself as a boy and escape to Kent to become a minstrel to King Edward, too. As ""Jude,"" her ability to pass as a boy, survive in the woods and defend herself against attackers is sometimes convincing (as when she makes use of her stepfather's peregrine falcon) and sometimes forced (e.g., when a blacksmith robs her and fails to discover her identity). Her many detours on the journey from Nesscliff to London and finally to Kent provide some insight into the varied lives of nobility, serfs and abbots. But they also give rise to contrived events that sustain the narrative, such as landing at her friends' manor where a petty sister-in-law is bound to fall for the young musician. The third-person narration's frequent shifts from Jude to her many acquaintances (sometimes only for a paragraph or two) is often confusing. Judith lives happily ever after, but only after she finds it impossible to keep up her ruse does she compromise her goal, and settle for love. Those who enjoy a good once-upon-a-time tale may be willing to stick with this heroine through her fairly implausible escapades. Ages 12-up. (Aug.)
Reviewed on: 07/31/2000
Release date: 08/01/2000
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