CM . . .
. Volume XII Number 17 . . . . April 28, 2006
Lionheart's Scribe, the third volume of Karleen Bradford's “The Crusades” series, is the diary of Matthew, young scribe to King Richard the Lionheart during the third crusade of 1190. At the outset of the story, 15-year-old Matthew is a crippled orphan whose life seems to consist of being bullied by the local gang and mistreated by his master, Vulgrin. However, fate steps in and completely changes Matthew's life. He finds himself aboard ship, headed with other Crusaders to recover the holy city of Jerusalem. Life becomes a series of adventures for the young protagonist.
Like the earlier books in this series, Lionsheart's Scribe is an action-packed story full of ships, warhorses and bloody battles. Matthew is able to save a queen from imprisonment, rescue a young Muslim girl from drowning and prevent the robbery of a valuable horse. These feats do require a 'willing suspension of disbelief' on the part of the reader, certainly, for they are rather far-fetched. On the other hand, Bradford skilfully weaves them into a vivid story of medieval blood, lust and battle, thus making them less unreal and simply methods of advancing the plot and building suspense.
As in the other two books, Bradford is able to place the modern reader squarely in a distant time and place. She evokes the confusion of hand-to-hand combat, the sights and smells of people and animals living closely together in the hold of a ship, and the unbearable heat of the Holy Land sun beating down on armoured men. The strategies used during battles are well described, as is the role of the king as a 'hands on' military leader, an idol revered by his followers, and yet in many ways also a power-hungry and willful tyrant.
The interest of the novel lies not only in its historical accuracy and realistic detail but also in the timeless questions which relate as well to life in our own century as they did to Matthew in his time. Our protagonist has a conscience, and the very fact of being at war causes him philosophical problems. Why, he wonders, can Christians, Jews and Muslims not get along if they essentially all worship the same God and share many of the same prophets? As a scribe, Matthew's job is obviously to record events around him for posterity. But does he include only the details dictated by the king, omitting some of the truth? How true is the history we all study and what bias might there be? Bradford opens the door on these and many other discussions which are timeless and pertinent.
By this third volume of the boxed set, the story might be in danger of becoming repetitive, but Bradford manages to avoid this. The plot of recapturing Jerusalem is the same, of course, but the time is later, the characters have changed, much of the travel is by ship and the story is in a diary format. The books link well together as a piece of history yet each one has its own charm and its own set of issues. For use in the classroom or as a set in the library, these young adult novels are well worth purchasing, and the boxed set is the ideal way to have the entire saga.
Ann Ketcheson, who lives in Ottawa, ON, is a former teacher-librarian and teacher of high school English and French.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.