A peasant girl. A Jew. A young monk. And their holy dog. In Adam Gidwitz’s latest book, The Inquisitor’s Tale, set in Medieval France, these three children and their dog band together to form a formidable army. To anyone familiar with Gidwitz’s books, it will come as no surprise that the book is whimsical and winding that stays on just the right side of the line between engaging and interested, and confusing. The tale is told from the point of view of multiple characters, telling their tales to an inquisitor in a pub. Pieced together, they form the lives of main characters William, Jacob, and Jeanne (and her dog). It begins with a legend-like tale of a peasant girl, told by a woman from her village. Jeanne’s tale is told, marking her growth from a young baby with a dog babysitter to a girl who, persecuted for her odd powers that may or may not extend to telling the future, is eventually taken prisoner/guest by some vaguely untrustworthy knights. Later, a man jumps forward with a tale of a monk-in-training who has been sent on a quest through dangerous forests with only a donkey (and supernatural strength) to guide him. Finally, the unnamed “inquisitor” is introduced to the tale of Jacob, perhaps the saddest tale of all: a butcher from Jacob’s village tells of the young Jewish boy, who is searching for his parents after a fire set by Christian boys from the neighbouring village for sport. With much reluctance, the three eventually begin to work together for something they all care about: saving hundreds of books from destruction in “the name of the Lord”. And hopefully, avoiding the martyrdom everyone seems to think they have coming to them.
The book has many unique aspects, and was in fact formulated during a year Gidwitz spent living across Europe. Besides being set in the Middle Ages, the book incorporates some Medieval style into it’s design with illuminations by Hatem Aly on every page. Illuminations, commonly found in Medieval texts, particularly religious texts, were used to allow peasants to glean understanding of the content, despite their illiteracy. The book has many such factual pieces, with nearly all characters (and their alleged miracles) loosely based on real people and events, or at least legends that were told of in Medieval times.
One of the most interesting parts of this story is the message it teaches. A story is established that brings together three characters from very different backgrounds. At first there is conflict between them, but the characters learn to work together. With the conflict in the current political atmosphere, perhaps this is something even adults could stand to learn.
In fact I would recommend this book for adults. Despite its easy language, a combination of its humour and the themes of tolerance in this book, I would recommend it for everyone about 8-10+. While the language is simple enough, and the plot would be engaging, to a younger kid, certain concepts might be more difficult to understand based off its time period and the (in some places more mature) sense of humour this book has. I do highly recommend this book though, and with the holidays coming up it would make a great gift, whether you plan to spend Christmas in church, are only in it for the gifts, or would really like some Chinese food right about now.