Customer Review

3.0 out of 5 stars The temptation to sequel-isation, 23 Sep 2009
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This review is from: The Pagan Chronicles (2) - Pagan in Exile (Paperback)
It is a joy to meet again the cynical, wise-cracking, teenage hero of Pagan's Crusade (Pagan Chronicles). At the end of the previous book, Pagan belied his tough, seen-it-all, attitude by revealing how much he loved his master, whom he regarded as a surrogate father. In this book we see the knight making good on his promise, as, he takes his squire west with him, back to his Frankish homeland.

Pagan, a Palestinian-born Christian orphan, raised by monks, from whom he escaped to follow a military career, is now adrift in a land where he is the alien, exiled by the fall of Jerusalem. Out of his element, and now totally dependent on the bond of loyalty between him and his lord, it is perhaps not surprising that Pagan has lost some of the confident, impudent cheerfulness that made him such an endearing character.

For Sir Roland is also losing his way; no longer able to serve God as a crusader, he finds the Western activities of his Order uncongenial, and tries awkwardly to fit back into the social order - pious son of a boorish father - from which he had escaped by becoming a Knight Templar. As Sir Roland loses his certainty as to his calling, Pagan's view of him as the perfect knight is weakened; looking, as ever, through Pagan's eyes, we see a flawed, far more human Sir Roland.

In Jerusalem, the Templar's idealism served as counterpoint to the cheerful, squalid reality that Pagan introduced us to, in the sreets of his native city. Here there is no contrast to the squalid, inhospitable - and, to Pagan, COLD! - landscape of Languedoc, where his skin colour matters, as it never had in the cosmopolitan world of Crusaders. This gives the book a darker, bleaker tone - even though the previous one ended with the loss of Pagan's entire world! Whereas first book had sunlight and shadows, "Pagan in Exile" is a more uniform grey.

My criticism of the book is not so much the change in tone - although I miss Pagan's distinctive style, which made the first book such fun to read - but the violence done to the characterisation. The differences in Sir Roland are due to Pagan's now more perceptive view of him; but it is Pagan's character that is the problem. In order to put him at opposition with *everything* about his surroundings in Languedoc, Pagan develops some rather surprising attitudes. He might have become weary of warfare, and no longer thrill at the possibility of killing, but Pagan is a hardened soldier, having served in the militia when still, by our standards, a child; I find it hard to believe that he would feel squeamish over hunting! Are we to suppose he was a vegetarian in the Holy Land?! Although perceived, nowadays, as a sport for the elite, hunting has been for centuries a usual means of supplementing the diet of all social classes. Whereas the Pagan of "Pagan's Crusade" cheerfully espoused attitudes that would be horrifying in a modern teenager, Pagan here appears to be becoming contaminated by anachronistic attitudes.

And finally, at the end of the book, Pagan agrees to follow Sir Roland into the Church. For the knight, it might seem an obvious route to take refuge from the moral ambiguities of everyday life, but Pagan has had bitter experience of the difference between the teachings of his faith, and the immorality of some of its professed practitioners. Having escaped an abusive upbringing, that still invades his dreams, would he really reenter that environment voluntarily, just to follow Sir Roland? Once they have both taken their vows, it would be out of their hands as to whether they ever saw each other again!

This book is enjoyable enough, standing alone. But Pagan seems to be turning into a generic 'observer' character; Catherine Jinks appears to be prepared to sacrifice characterisation and plausibility in order to run her hero through the gamut of mediaeval experience. That doesn't make this a bad book, but I'm disappointed.

To end with a pedantic point: inconsistencies with the first book, such as a name change for Sir Roland's much-loved horse, are just plain irritating!
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Alexa
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Location: United Kingdom

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