Friday, 2 August 2013

CRUSADE, by Elizabeth Laird, and HALO, by Zizou Corder: reviewed by Sue Purkiss

I borrowed these two books from the library. The advantage of doing this is that you're selecting from an eclectic range of books, not just from recently published ones, and I had missed both these treats when they first came out. The disadvantage is that I had to take them back, so I don't have them in front of me to refer to - so apologies if there's a certain lack of detail in what follows!

Crusade is the first book by Elizabeth Laird that I've read. It features two boys, one a Christian from England, and one a Moslem from Acre. They are on opposite sides during one of Richard the Lionheart's crusades. At first, their stories alternate, but eventually they meet.

The book is a brilliant evocation of a distant time and place, with so much detail and so many vividly drawn characters - I particularly liked Dr Musa, the Jewish doctor: tetchy and immensely skilled, he has a heart as big as the planet, and Salim is fortunate indeed to be taken on by him as an apprentice. Given the subject matter, there is the opportunity for many contemporary resonances, and the author explores these thoroughly; through the character of Adam, we see how direct experience alters the way we perceive those we thought of as enemies. At the beginning of the book he has a simplistic attitude to the crusade, but by the end he is a far more tolerant and nuanced character, with a much deeper understanding of human nature and the effects of war - as is Salim, who grows immensely through the book.

Halo is set in ancient Greece, during the period of the wars between Athens and Sparta. Halo herself is a child brought up by centaurs, a kind, wise and gentle race. But circumstances force her to go on a journey which will eventually lead to her discovery of her true parentage. Along the way, she has all sorts of adventures with both Spartans and Athenians, meeting philosophers and warriors, finding herself in great danger but always bouncing out of it. This is another book with vivid, immensely likeable characters - and some nasty villains, too.

I don't know whether these would be categorised as middle-grade or YA; I found them both hugely enjoyable. Crusade is thought-provoking, Halo is enchanting. Both are beautifully written.


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