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?
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.