cover image The Heathens and the Dragon

The Heathens and the Dragon

Kate A. Boorman. Thistledown, $12.95 paper (300p) ISBN 978-1-77187-247-8

Orphaned siblings flee in the wake of religious violence in this heady and exhilarating historical adventure, a middle grade debut by Boorman (Into the Sublime). In the 13th century, following their mother’s death, Elodie and her younger brother Bertran have been raised in southern France by Senhor Benet, a benevolent caregiver and secret member of the Cathar Christian sect. Upon the inauguration of a “fierce” new Catholic pope, papal crusaders descend on the village searching for Senhor Benet in a campaign to root out “heathens.” After Senhor Benet bolts, leaving behind a small fortune in a flour sack, Elodie vows to find him and return his gold. Upon meeting Joie, a female troubadour harboring a secret, Elodie, Bertram, and Bertram’s beloved chicken Codet establish a storytelling troupe; they earn money by performing variations on the pagan tales Elodie’s mother told her, modified to fit Catholic tastes. Zippy dialogue enriches the children’s dynamic, while Elodie’s anxiety about protecting Bertram and changing her mother’s stories escalate narrative tension. The group’s navigation of the brutal machinations of the adult world (particularly the Crusades and treatment of non-Catholic Europeans) makes for a densely layered and immaculately paced escapade. Characters are white European. Back matter provides historical context. Ages 8–12. Agent: Michael Bourret, Dystel, Goderich & Bourret. (Sept.)