Author: Linda Press Wulf
Release date: 4th Jan 2011 UK
Genre: historical fiction/young adult
Target audience: 12+
UK Publisher: Bloomsbury
Robert: Left on the steps of a church as a baby, Robert was often hungry but never stole food like the other orphans in town. Introverted and extraordinarily intelligent, he knew all the Latin prayers and hymns by heart by the time he was five years old.
Georgette: Her own mother died in childbirth, leaving Georgette with a father who, seventeen at the time, had neither experience nor aptitude as a nurturing parent, and a brother known in town as Le Fuer - The Spitfire - for his terrible temper.
Perhaps to replace something missing from their own lives, both Robert and Georgette are drawn to the news of a crusader, twelve or thirteen, no older than themselves, travelling down through France with thousands of followers - all, unbelievably, children too. Of those thousands, this is the incredible story of two. This is a story of hardship, loss and love.
As the summary suggests perfectly, The Crusade is, foremost, a story of hardship, loss and love. It explores one's personal faith and closeness to God, juxtaposed with the mentality of a large group wanting something for the sake of a romantic ideal that is quite unreachable, and how an individual may become lost - or found - when faced with such an impossible ideal. It is also a story of growing up, of leaving innocence behind and walking into the embrace of experience. The transition can be hard, and even painful. It may even leave one disillusioned. Yet when one's personal faith is strong, one can survive any ordeal. That is the message of the book, in my opinion.
The novel focuses on two relevant events in history, one can say. The first one is the Children's Crusade that took place in 1212. There are several theories about this crusade. Some historians believe that children actually went on a crusade to the Holy Land; some suggest that the crusaders consisted of several groups of poor and disabled people. However, what all these theories share is that the crusaders came from France and Germany, both streams led by two "prophets" on each side and eventually, they merged. This novel takes place in France and explores the theory that children were the crusaders. As they were believed to be pure, it was supposed that their purity alone would defeat the Muslims once the children stepped on the ground of Jerusalem.
The story of the crusade is explored through two great characters: Georgette and Robert. Georgette is a teenage peasant girl, favoured by the local priest and thus educated beyond her status. She is learned, a thinker and a great helper at home. When a boy, Stephen, believed to be a prophet of God, passes her village with his followers, bent on defeating the Muslims in the Holy Land, Georgette sees a chance to put her deep devotion to God to some use. She is kind and full of hope. Robert, a foundling who became a priest's protégée, is a very erudite and intelligent young man. Feeling trapped within the walls of his monastery, he sees a chance of escape in the crusade. He is also envious of the prophet who, with no special knowledge, seems to have everything he desires, while Robert, learned and cultured, seems to have nothing. Robert must witness this crusade himself, so he joins the group, hoping he will finally find his purpose.
The journey is difficult and full of hardships. The crusaders are followed by famine, the cold and death. Despair is everywhere and by the end of their journey, both Georgette and Robert become disillusioned, realizing through certain occurrences that the crusade, as well as the prophet, is not what it appears to be. The hard experience crushes their innocence, but Georgette and Robert are strong individuals and their faith grows because of the experience.
The second important event I wanted to mention is not so much an event as it is a process - the development of heresy in France that takes place in the second portion of the novel. The heretics are not named, but I believed the novel explored the beginnings of what later became the Albigensian Crusade (a campaign of the Catholic Church to destroy the Cathar movement in Languedoc in the South of France). I may be wrong, but in any event, it was very interesting to read about these things. Today, it is completely natural that the Bible is translated into every language imaginable, but in the 13th century, this was seen as a heretic act, among other things. Georgette and Robert become involved with this new religion as well, which sends them on another important journey of discoveries. I must point out here that, at this point, the novel also stressed the importance of learning and knowledge and I think this is another great message it sends to the reader
I truly enjoyed the novel. I must say that at first, I thought it did not have a clear purpose, as if the author could not decide which historical events to explore and threw in two. But upon some deliberation, I see that it is all about the messages the novel provides, and about the journey of self-discovery that the two protagonists experience. There is tension, despair, hope and love. I can say that, all in all, I really enjoyed the novel. The historical points were well researched and incorporated into the text and I definitely had a fun reading experience.
Read for the Historical Fiction Challenge 2011
Becky says: Interesting review Irena. I felt the same way about a book I read recently. The author was exploring three very different themes - two relating to conflict. At first I thought that they would never pull it off but they did. If children were really sent on crusades (and considering people didn't live long lives back then, they probably did) I just find it so barbaric. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.
Both our thanks go to Bloomsbury for sending the book to review.