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Book Report: The Inquisitor's Tale

We haven’t had a Book Report here on the blog for ever so long, partly because (I hate to admit) during the Hamlet rehearsals I wasn’t reading much, and partly because I haven’t had much inspiration to write about the stuff I have read. I’ve read some good stuff in there, tho’ I can’t off the top of my head remember what. That was the good thing about blogging each and every book I read for five years; I could look back and at least to some extent remember what the good ones were. There were less good parts, too, though.

Well. I recently finished The Inquisitor’s Tale, by Adam Gidwitz. Hunh. I hadn’t realized he was the Tale Dark and Grimm guy. Anyway, I had been seeing the book on the shelf for a month or two—a very enticing cover, and you know I always judge books that way—and it kept winning awards and all, and so finally I picked it up. It’s terrific. I liked it a lot.

It’s an odd little middle-grade homage to Chaucer and the Middle Ages generally, and I’m curious whether someone more knowledgeable about that stuff than I am would find it irritating or would enjoy it even more than I did. It’s a jumble of saints’ legends, literature, history, music, architecture. It’s full of anachronisms, clearly deliberately so, and of odd bits of mismatched flotsam. One of the characters is clearly supposed to be Joan of Arc, but she’s in the wrong story entirely—the wrong century, the wrong part of France I think, certainly the wrong quest. It didn’t bother me, at least once I decided that she was supposed to be some sort of Joan of Arc analogue and that her story wouldn’t have to match up with the real one (or the legend, for that matter). And that’s just one—I’m pretty sure that is properly St. Margaret’s dragon, and that jongleur was contemporary with St. Louis’ grandmother, not with him, and what language, exactly, does the Scotsman have a terrible accent in? It reminds me, honestly, of Maz Luhrmanm’s Bollywood Triviata Moulin Rouge! in its delirious nonsense. If that sort of thing gets up your nose, this may be a book to skip.

And in truth, for a book that is, I think, intended to teach middle-grade readers about an actual historical event, and about the Middle Ages more generally, I wonder if the hodgepodge approach is really a Good Idea. I mean, will such tweens as read this thing be charmingly confused, or will they just assume that Joan of Arc really did have a magic greyhound? Yes, there’s an afterward that sorts through sources (and that’s great) but, well, if I’m worried about what medievalists would think of the book, I suppose it’s more important to wonder what its actual target audience would think of it.

Had I mentioned that it’s a middle-grade book? I suppose I hadn’t. Yeah, that’s what it is. Seems to be aimed at bright ten-year-olds who like to read, which is a marvelous thing, really, since so many middle-school books seem to be aimed at reluctant readers. And I know there are a lot of those reluctant readers, as strange as that seems to me, and that it’s really quite important that there exist books written to entice them to read. I don’t know what a reluctant reader would do with this book, honestly, but there do exist bright ten-year-olds who like to read, and thank goodness people write for them, too. Otherwise they jump right to the teen stuff with content they aren’t quite ready for—they’re ready for the complexity of the writing, but not the moral quandaries, sex and horrific post-apocalyptic murderscapes. At least, they aren’t all ready for that. I hope.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,
-Vardibidian.

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