So, I managed to read a book in one day again. That’s a good sign in the case of The Inquisitor’s Tale: Or, three Magical Children and their Holy Dog by Adam Gidwitz. This book is aimed at younger audiences, probably not an adult that saw some shiny metallic details on the cover and admittedly bought it on impulse.
Now, I want to start by talking about how the book actually looks. Judging it by its cover, so to speak. Hatem Aly provided the illustrations for this book, and he did them in an illumination style. This adds a really unique touch for a book that takes place in 1242. The metallic detail on the cover pays homage to the illuminated manuscripts from the middle ages. Aly’s illustrations stay in the margins without interrupting the text of the story.
Gidwitz and Aly really tried to create a modern-day medieval text. The Inquisitor’s Tale is the story of Jeanne, William, Jacob, and Gwenforte as they find themselves and try to stop King Louis IX from burning thousands of Jewish texts. Jeanne is a peasant girl that has visions of the future. William is a biracial monk with incredible height and strength. Jacob is a Jewish boy that can heal wounds instantly with his knowledge of healing plants and a short prayer. Gwenforte is a greyhound that achieved sainthood after she was killed after her owners mistakenly thought that she had killed their baby when she had really saved her from an adder.
Gidwitz takes the role as a mondern-day Chaucer as he sets up his own Canterbury Tales. The titular inquisitor sits in a tavern waiting for the king’s entourage to pass by, though he really hopes to see the three most wanted children in France. A group of patrons, like a nun, an innkeeper, a butcher, and more tell what they’ve heard of the children that some are calling a group of living saints.
There are other characters that the children encounter, but it’s near impossible to talk about them without spoiling something. I’ll just say that nobody is quite who they seem in The Inquisitor’s Tale. It’s difficult to tell who is going to be friend or foe, both for the children and for the reader.
I will say that the book has some very strong religious overtones. That’s not a bad thing, in this case, it’s showing how closely tied religion was to every aspect of life in the middle ages. I also think that The Inquisitor’s Tale shows prejudice in all of its uncomfortable reality. Again, I’m thinking about how this book is aimed at younger readers. I think that it’s a message that I think people need to understand. Prejudice hurts real people, even though it stems from the idea of them. You can see how badly antisemitism in every corner of society hurts Jacob. How fear of people of African descent hurts William. How accusations of witchcraft hurt Jeanne. This book is deceptively heavy, to be honest.
All in all, I am so happy that I picked up The Inquisitor’s Tale. I’ve only scratched the surface of the heart that this book has. I’d argue that this book isn’t read, but experienced. I spent a day following the most tumultuous week imaginable for these three children. I would wholeheartedly recommend this book for anybody, young, old, or otherwise.