My Copy of The Inquisitor’s Tale (Front Cover)
WARNING! SPOILERS AHEAD!
Now, I know I said I planned to only read books by women this year unless they were assigned to me for a class. But when I saw The Inquisitor’s Tale Or, The Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog by Adam Gidwitz I absolutely had to read it. This is a really good book.
Written in the same format as The Canterbury Tales, The Inquisitor’s Tale takes place in the year 1242 in France. The story follows three children (and their holy dog!) who are gifted with miraculous abilities. There’s Jeanne, a peasant girl who has visions of the future, William, a biracial monk with super-strength, and Jacob, a Jewish boy who can heal any wound with plants and the power of prayer. With the help of a monk named Michelangelo di Bologna, they must stop King Louis IX and his mother from burning every single Talmud in France. This is all while avoiding being killed for their miraculous powers.
The story begins at an inn and our narrator, Etienne d’Arles (whom we only learn the name of in the last eighth of the book), is trying to find out more about the children. Each chapter is told from the point of view of someone who knew them (or a very mysterious nun who should not know all the things she knows), so The Inquisitor’s Tale is very episodic in nature. We learn about each child individually and their separate adventures until they finally all meet up. Some of these adventures include (but are not limited to) Jeanne’s visions, William killing fiends in a forest, Jacob’s village being set on fire, running away from knights, battling an evil monk, curing a lactose intolerant dragon, and of course, meeting the king of France. Each “episode” is completely captivating.
While the book is written for young readers, it’s safe to say that older readers will enjoy the story as well. The Inquisitor’s Tale is clever, well written, and fun to read. One thing I particularly enjoy is the illuminations. The majority of the pages have illustrations, furthering the medieval feel of the book. (There is also a note at the beginning of the story explaining that is exactly what the author and illustrator were going for.)
Another thing I liked was how Gidwitz incorporated medieval ideas and beliefs into the text. When I read historical fiction, having the characters have modern beliefs right off the bat can be a little off-putting. It’s something that takes me out of the story, especially when the setting is supposed to be a real place instead of a fantasy world. That being said, I do like it when characters learn and grow into more accepting people. And that’s exactly what happens in The Inquisitor’s Tale.
Each of the three children is a minority in some way and must face prejudices coming from the world around them. Over the course of the text, the children learn that “Hey, maybe my preconceived notions about people who are different than me are wrong and the people I’ve been taught to fear and hate are like me too.” (Of course, this lesson isn’t as obvious as I’ve written out here, but you get the point.)
The Inquisitor’s Tale also incorporates a lot of real medieval legends in the main narrative. There are dragons, holy dogs that come back from the dead, fiends in the forest, tales of ghosts coming back from Hell to warn evildoers of their evil ways, etc. These are all done very well. However, there was one fantasy aspect of the book that was a little thrown off by:
Michelangelo di Bologna turns out to be the archangel, Michael.
I’m not sure why I’m so thrown off by this. After all, there are a lot of other fantasy elements in The Inquisitor’s Tale that I believed. Perhaps it’s because this reveal made the ending feel very deus ex machina (literally!). I might have to reread the book and see if I missed any clues hinting towards Michelangelo’s divine state.
Overall, The Inquisitor’s Tale was a fantastic book and you need to read it.
My Copy of The Inquisitor’s Tale (Back Cover)