cover image PAGAN'S CRUSADE


Catherine Jinks, . . Candlewick, $15.99 (248pp) ISBN 978-0-7636-2019-6

Australian author Jinks's alternately hilarious, often poignant novel, the first of four planned, turns medieval history into fodder for both high comedy and allegory. In the spirit of Monty Python, she gives narrator Pagan Kidrouk a contemporary mindset through which readers view the era's code of chivalry. Street-wise Pagan arrives at the gates of the Templar Knights in hopes of earning money to pay off gambling debts. He becomes the squire of the near-perfect Lord Roland during a pivotal time in Jerusalem's history: the Holy Land is under siege from the Egyptian sultan Saladin. Many scenes are hysterical, such as dim-witted pilgrims playing guessing games to pass the time on the road ("Which saint am I? My name begins with U—" To the answer, Saint Eusebius , Pagan thinks, "Saint who?") or swapping tips about not-to-be-missed religious landmarks the way soccer moms trade vacation ideas. But the author handles serious moments just as confidently, when Pagan's sarcastic voice gives way to genuine introspection. There is real history and real drama in this setting, much of it bloody, but Jinks keeps the focus on Pagan and his unique perspective. This series may well become a cult favorite, and Pagan's catch phrase ("Christ in a cream cheese sauce!") might just catch on. Ages 13-up. (Oct.)