I did promise you knights 'n' stuff, didn't I?
Book: Pagan's Crusade
Author: Catherine Jinks
The time: 1187. The place: Jerusalem. The events: the Crusades. Here comes Lord Roland Roucy de Bram, the dashing Knight Templar, one of the glorious and heroic guardians of the holy places and the pilgrims that come to see them . . . and here comes Lord Roland's squire, muttering and swearing and generally snarking on everything in sight. Meet Pagan Kidrouk, the most unlikely Monk of War since, well, ever.
From the moment I met sixteen-year-old Pagan, with his irreverence and determined cynicism, I had to keep reading. Note this exchange, early on when Pagan is signing up for the Knights Templar. "Birthplace." "Bethlehem. . . . Don't worry. It wasn't in a stable." Hehehe! And yet Pagan's not rock-hard, either. Even as he decries the unbelievable stupidity of what he's doing, he finds himself bonding with Lord Roland, who really is as good as he seems, and learning that there are some things worth laying down your life for. Just not the ones everyone says.
Like Pagan, the book itself is a strange blend of hilarity and seriousness, with Pagan's opinions on greedy pilgrims trying to make a buck off each other juxtaposed with graphic descriptions of siege warfare. Catherine Jinks is reportedly a medieval scholar, which I believe, because this is not a sweet and fuzzy, noble and heroic portrait of the times. It's gutsy, gritty, bloody, and confusing, with people who complain, steal, lie . . . actually, it feels a lot like today, except without indoor plumbing.
Jinks utilizes something close to a stream of consciousness technique, with first-person present tense, so it feels as if you're actually sitting in Pagan's head, listening to his thoughts. It may bother some hardcore nitpickers that Pagan and his companions have such modern sensibilities and speech, but for me, it made it more immediate and real.
Pagan stars in two more books, Pagan's Exile and Pagan's Vows, and appears in one more, Pagan's Scribe. Go out and find them!