The Inquisitor's Tale
written by Adam Gidwitz
illuminated by Hatem Aly
published by Dutton Children's Book
September 27, 2016
1242. On a dark night, travelers from across France cross paths at an inn and begin to tell stories of three children: William, an oblate on a mission from his monastery; Jacob, a Jewish boy who has fled his burning village; and Jeanne, a peasant girl who hides her prophetic visions. They are accompanied by Jeanne's loyal greyhound, Gwenforte . . . recently brought back from the dead.
As the narrator collects their tales, the story of these three unlikely allies begins to come together.
Their adventures take them on a chase through France to escape prejudice and persecution and save precious and holy texts from being burned. They’re taken captive by knights, sit alongside a king, and save the land from a farting dragon. And as their quest drives them forward to a final showdown at Mont Saint-Michel, all will come to question if these children can perform the miracles of saints.
You can read this book and be taken away to a different time, to the middle ages (just don't call it the Dark Ages). With a cast of characters that is unique to most stories read today, a story that is full of holiness, kings and queens, and special books, it really does feel like a different read than you're used to. Each chapter begins with a different person carrying on the tale of the children. Because of the different people adding on to the tales, I wish I had written down some of the details to help me remember who was carrying on the story. Each character brings the story along further, detailing what is happening to the three children and dog. The book is full of Gidwitz humor (a bit tongue in cheek), language (also used tongue in cheek) and gore (cringe worthy, for sure). Just like in his Grimm series, the story is interrupted from time to time by the narrator and storytellers, who not only share their insights, but usually say some kind of "wisdom" that makes the reader laugh out loud. The plot is suspenseful because the storytellers of each chapter leave off with whatever part of the adventure they know about, so the reader is always curious to find out what will happen to the children and dog next. The writing is clever, smart and funny. It will appeal to a large groups of readers because I don't think this book is very genre specific - it's not quite historical fiction, it's not quite fantasy, it has adventure... Enough of everything to make this have wide appeal.
I can't wait to see a final copy of this book with the illuminations by Hatem Aly. Not illustrations, illuminations. There is a wonderful explanation of this at the beginning of the book. Keeping in check with this being a medieval tale, those were often illuminated by an artist - interestingly enough, which may go with the author's interpretation of the writing or it may contradict it. Only the first chapter was illuminated in the ARC, and I can tell you it will be a treat to see the final copy!
Throughout the story, there were themes that reoccured that made me think that although this story takes place centuries ago, it has very real ties with what is happening in our society now. There is persecution of people who are thought to have certain beliefs. There is outcasting of cultures. There is banning of books because of different ideals. There is a mistrust among people who are of different skin tones. Sound familiar? There is a haunting part of the author's notes that talks about a connection within the story to the Paris terrorist attacks in 2015. Gidwitz does an amazing job of threading relevant themes throughout this story that stay true to the setting of the story, but should result in some great conversations by readers.
This is going to be a fun book to use with upper middle schools. Doing a Mock Newbery? I would include it in groups that are 5th grade and above. Distinguished? Yes. Enjoy.