Australian author Jinks's alternately hilarious, often poignant novel, the first of four planned, turns medieval history into fodder for both high comedy and allegory. In the spirit of Monty Python, she gives narrator Pagan Kidrouk a contemporary mindset through which readers view the era's code of chivalry. Street-wise Pagan arrives at the gates of the Templar Knights in hopes of earning money to pay off gambling debts. He becomes the squire of the near-perfect Lord Roland during a pivotal time in Jerusalem's history: the Holy Land is under siege from the Egyptian sultan Saladin. Many scenes are hysterical, such as dim-witted pilgrims playing guessing games to pass the time on the road ("Which saint am I? My name begins with U " To the answer, Saint Eusebius, Pagan thinks, "Saint who?") or swapping tips about not-to-be-missed religious landmarks the way soccer moms trade vacation ideas. But the author handles serious moments just as confidently, when Pagan's sarcastic voice gives way to genuine introspection. There is real history and real drama in this setting, much of it bloody, but Jinks keeps the focus on Pagan and his unique perspective. This series may well become a cult favorite, and Pagan's catch phrase ("Christ in a cream cheese sauce!") might just catch on. Ages 13-up. (Oct.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Gr 7 Up-An uneven attempt at blending history, adventure, and humor. Pagan, a streetwise teenager in muddy, medieval Jerusalem, tries to escape his criminal past by joining the Templar Knights. He becomes a squire to Lord Roland de Bram, a rigid, proper Knight, and together they uncover a plot to invade the Holy City. Rich with historical details, yet lacking in explanation of period or setting, the book fails to give readers the broader context of the events. Also, the ungainly first-person narration, much of it written in decapitated sentence fragments and parenthetical asides, will leave teens with the difficult tasks of empathizing with the narrator and attempting to understand the action. The character development is weak, leaving most of the players as mere caricatures. Pagan learns a lesson or two about responsibility while working with Roland and defending the city, but he doesn't really evolve beyond anachronistic, sarcastic remarks. His favorite phrase, "Christ in a cream cheese sauce," is funny once or twice, but loses something on the 20th reading. Readers who have moved beyond Jon Scieszka's "Time Warp Trio" series (Viking) may find something in the historical spoofing and sarcasm, but Leon Garfield's Smith (Farrar, 2000) is a better take on the clever, back-alley kid who gets in over his head. First in a proposed series.-Douglas P. Davey, Guelph Public Library, Ontario, Canada Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.