Saturday, February 23, 2008

Berit Haahr

The Minstrel’s Tale
by Berit Haahr
Recommended Age: 12+

This historical novel for young readers is full of adventure, peril, music, and romance—but mainly, it’s about a girl in 14th-century England who dresses up as a boy and runs away from home in order to escape a nasty, arranged marriage. Judith becomes Jude and sets off after a dream of becoming one of the King’s Minstrels, in an age when women minstrels were frowned upon.

But with little company apart from a peregrine falcon named Percival, Jude’s is a long hard journey through such dangers as bandits, huntsmen, and an amorous noblewoman who thinks Jude is the man of her dreams. And when she finally gets to the castle in Kent where the King’s Minstrels are trained, she has to bear with the malice of other apprentices who are jealous of her talent, while longing for the love of a Master Minstrel named Robin who scarcely even gives her a second look.

That’s it, in a nutshell. Those who loved Catherine, Called Birdy and/or Adam of the Road will love this book too. Indeed, it is a more mature and well-structured novel than either of those. Passing from scene to scene in Medieval England, it teaches a great deal about the historic roles of women, life in a noble manor or royal court, in a convent or monastery, on the roads and in the wayside inns. Crafted with humor, sensory delights, varied characters, and marvelous detail, it’s a first novel that cries out for a second.

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