The Inquisitor’s Tale

One of the earliest posts on this blog was for Adam Gidwitz’s Grimm trilogy. Here, I’ll review his new (well, relatively new) book, The Inquisitor’s Tale, Or, The Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog. This fantastic adventure begins in a small inn in medieval France. An unnamed and unknown Inquisitor enters, claiming to be a collector of stories, asking after those three children that everybody’s been hearing of recently. Does the small one really see the future? Can the one with the curly hair really heal with a prayer? Did the oblate really shatter a stone bench with his bare fist? Is their greyhound actually holy, or is she just a very good dog? Why on Earth does the King want them dead?

The Inquisitor's Tale, Or, The Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog

One by one, the travelers at the inn, complete strangers, share their knowledge. Details are accumulated, the account is built upon, and with the help of a mysteriously pansophical nun, gaps are filled. Finally, all the events of the last week are brought to light. The story of the children is finished. The children themselves, though, are not. As the three and their dog come to the very same inn, it is the Inquisitor’s turn to find out — and play a part in — how their story will end.

As well-written as Gidwitz’s other books, if with a slightly smaller amount of blood, The Inquisitor’s Tale is a gripping and entertaining read. The storytelling, interspersed with the refreshing and witty interruptions that were so iconic in the Grimm trilogy, is wonderful. In addition, the book is illuminated by Hatem Aly in the distinctive style of a medieval manuscript. These illustrations, adorning almost every page with depictions of or connections to the writing, add a sense of authenticity to the text, and though I didn’t always examine them closely, I found that even having them in my periphery made it feel like I was reading the work of a 13th century scribe.

Within the story, Gidwitz also tackled the issues of racism, misogyny, anti-Semitism, and classism. I commend him for doing so in a children’s book, but the way he handled it was, in my opinion, questionable. For example, almost everybody who came across the oblate, William, would remark on his race before anything else. While it’s true that these people were clearly represented as wrongful or ignorant, his skin color was always put first in his interactions with the other characters. This happens as well with Jeanne, who is described too often as “the peasant girl” (being a peasant and a girl, never mind any number of other ways she could be described), and Jacob, whose Judaism almost defines his presentation in others’ company. Personally, I would have found it more accurate and more interesting if the discrimination had taken a subtler and more sinister form, standing as a silent, lurking challenge to the children rather than a blatant one.

To Gidwitz’s credit, he states in his Author’s Note that he intended to portray racism as it was in medieval Europe. At a time before the transatlantic slave trade, the color of William’s skin would likely have been seen by the French as an oddity rather than a stigma. Still, this made it less relatable to a modern reader — while Gidwitz had no problem using modern English vernacular for exactly the purpose of making his story relatable — and it was the one thing I felt stood in the way of an otherwise fantastic book.

All things considered, I still recommend it. The plot is great, the writing reads well, and the humor is clever. (All right, there are fart jokes. It’s still a lot more sophisticated than a lot of books aimed at the same age group.) Keeping the last paragraphs in mind, as well as the standard gore warning that comes with any Gidwitz book, go ahead and read it! It’s a heartwarming, funny tale about the adventures of three children. Three magical children. And their holy dog.

Illuminae

Apparently, it’s been almost two years since I last posted here. I’ll try to post more regularly (or at least more regularly than that) from here on out. There are plenty of books I’ve read recently that I’d like to review, so I’ll be posting pretty frequently in the next few days. First up: Illuminaethe multi-media science fiction experience Illuminae, written by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff.

Illuminae is the unique, absorbing story of Kady and Ezra, two young inhabitants of a remote and not entirely above-board settlement on the icy planet Kerenza. When their planet is invaded by the warships of a sinister corporation, the two are forced to escape together. A slight complication, though, is that they’d just broken up that morning.

Told in chat logs, audio and video transcripts, diary entries, military reports, classified documents, and the twisted poetry of a rogue AI, Illuminae is everything that a science fiction novel should be. The plot itself is incredibly well- designed and written, and the form it takes only makes it all the more engaging. It made me laugh and cry within the space of a few pages. If there is one thing I’ve reviewed here that I would recommend, it is this book (and that means a lot coming from an Adam Gidwitz fan like myself!)

One thing I will mention, though, is that Illuminae deals with pretty adult themes. If you are thinking of reading it, know that it can get quite dark at times, which may be jarring if you’re expecting the humor of the initial impression to hold throughout the book. It doesn’t take away from the story at all — on the contrary, I believe it adds to it — but reader discretion is advised.

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