Author: Lili Wilkinson
Release date: 1st March 2010 UK
Genre: Historical Adventure
Target audience: 10+
UK Publisher: Catnip Books
A charismatic religious leader has come to the village. Stefan has convinced Gabriel that only children will be able to liberate the Holy Land from the Infidel. Together they raise an army and make the arduous journey over the Alps to the Mediterranean-Stefan's promise that the ocean will part before them urging them on. But the power of Stefan's promises dim as they suffer misadventures again and again. Gabriel must face his doubts and the questions that plague him. Who is Stefan? Is he really a holy prophet? Or has he doomed them all? And can they survive on faith alone?
Company of Angels, also known under the title Angel Fish, is a poignant story based on the 13th century Children's Crusade.
This book is based on loose facts and is a fictional account of the great events that might have happened in 1212. Historians are still not sure whether children actually went to the Holy Land to fight the Saracens or not. There are many theories and none of them confirmed, but the author opted for the one which supposes that a great army of children from France and Germany went on a holy crusade to restore Jerusalem back to Christians. This is a startling thought; the image of thousands of children struggling on their dangerous journey to a far-away place, suffering and dying in the hope that their mission might be victorious, is shocking and tragic, as well as breath-taking.
The story begins when Gabriel, a French peasant boy, meets the charismatic Stefan, who claims he has had a message from God and it is his duty to gather together children. Stefan, a fervent believer and the preacher type, believes that the pure souls of innocent children will kill the Saracens the moment their little feet touch the soil of Jerusalem. The impressionable Gabriel joins Stefan as his first follower, believing Stefan when he says that Gabriel, his first follower, is Stefan's alpha fish, a soaring bird - simply put, the hope of Christianity. Gabriel is very proud of his new extremely important position.
Soon, an army of two becomes an army of several thousand children and when they meet a German army of children on their way to Jerusalem, led by Nikolai, everything suddenly seems to be very possible.
The story is told from Gabriel's point of view and as Gabriel is a little boy, the language of the narrative is simple, but Gabriel's thoughts are very deep and show that his mind is mature and able to conjure up very thoughtful ideas. He is naive, yet also incredibly aware of himself. Gabriel believes in Stefan absolutely. The reader can see that Stefan is self-righteous and even hypocritical, saying one thing and doing another, but to Gabriel, this mission is everything and he puts his entire faith in Gabriel. When the army is met with a string of failures and many deaths, Gabriel is tempted to waver and even does once, but he picks himself up and continues the journey. His faith in Stefan, in the mission, is perfect. He sees himself as Stefan's alpha fish all the time and feels a great responsibility as Stefan's first follower. He genuinely believes that Stefan needs him.
One might say very fast that Gabriel's faith is blind and to a certain extent it is. To him, the mission is not even about God and Jerusalem. It is about Stefan and the magnificence that the man radiates, according to Gabriel. Yet, Gabriel is also a constant in this story and presents unwavering faith in this novel. The people around him keep changing their minds. One minute they believe, the next they doubt, then believe again and so on. But Gabriel is firm in his beliefs, no matter what, and I could truly appreciate this about his character. He is an amazing little boy.
The novel explores many things - the crusades, the ongoing conflict between Christianity and Islam, human faith, honest beliefs vs. hypocrisy and courage. It is a bitter sweet and strangely inspiring tale that leaves one thinking about it after they've finished reading the novel. The journey of the children was physically and emotionally overwhelming, but Gabriel is proof that you can achieve any goal if you believe in it enough, which is a very inspiring thought. Just in general, the word that best describes the novel in my eyes is inspiring.
The novel offers a detailed account of a great historical event that might have actually happened. The history is covered well, as is the emotional journey of the characters. I truly enjoyed the author's vision of the Children's Crusade, presenting it in realistic terms that leave a deep emotional impression.
The ending is bitter sweet, yet after what Gabriel went through, I can hardly imagine it otherwise. The final message is that one has to find happiness inside oneself, but sadly that is often very hard to accomplish.
Company of Angels is a great fictional historical tale based on real events, featuring a great hero. It is quite a journey and if you like historical fiction with some depth, this is the right journey for you.
Becky says: Wow Irena. I think this review is beautiful. It is so thoughtful and I love the consideration you have given to the different themes explored by the author. Thank you so much for being my guest reviewer. I am feeling rather honoured to have you helping out.
Both our thanks go to Catnip Books/ Bounce Marketing for sending the book for review.