CM . . .
. Volume XIII Number 1 . . . . September 1, 2006
Karleen Bradford's fifth novel about the Crusades is the prequel to her critically acclaimed young adult novel Angeline (See Vol XI No. 5, October 29, 2004) which was nominated for several Canadian young readers' choice awards and has earned stellar reviews. The Scarlet Cross brings to life the story of Stephen of Cloyes, the French shepherd boy called by God to lead the Children's Crusade in 1212. The Children's Crusade ended in misery when children who had survived starvation, exhaustion, and illness walking across France were tricked into slave ships headed for Egypt.
Stephen's abusive father and drunken, pilfering brother have earned the scorn and distrust of the other Cloyes villagers, and Stephen begins to realize his lousy lot in life. In those days, the first Crusades had already failed, but the village priests still preached of the need to liberate Jerusalem. While daydreaming in the field one day, Stephen hears the voice of a stranger, a missionary come from God. He brings Stephen a letter that commands him to lead an army of children to Jerusalem to “restore Jerusalem to the true faith.”
Stephen must confront and run from his family; earn the respect and trust of the Cloyes priest, other priests, and the king of France; and find the confidence to recruit others to his calling. Stephen's doubts and fears are carefully described and balance the improbable (but historically accurate) situation. Stephen conquers his insecurities and develops his ability to preach, then leads thousands of children on a torturous journey across France. Bradford doesn't gloss over hardships- supporting characters die along the way, and some adults show no mercy towards the children. Bradford also clearly illustrates Stephen's blossoming egotism and his subsequent downfall, often reflected in the astute and acidic comments of Angeline, the story's female lead.
I read The Scarlet Cross before reading Angeline, however, and struggled with what seemed to be religious bias. In Angeline, Bradford deftly illustrates how crusading Catholics of the 11th century might have responded to being plopped into a Muslim world and highlights the religious tolerance of the Muslims and the Coptic Christians. In The Scarlet Cross, however, non-Christians are repeatedly referred to as "infidels" that must be forcibly ejected from the Holy City of Jerusalem, and this terminology made me wonder how Muslim and Jewish readers might respond to the book. I felt it set up an antagonistic relationship between the story's characters and non-Christian readers, but, after reading Angeline, I see that Bradford is being true to her characters' knowledge, beliefs, and vocabulary. The Scarlet Cross is a magnificent companion to Angeline and readers will also appreciate it as a stand-alone read.
Bradford once again richly describes the protagonists' characters and their growth through imagery and well-paced action, as opposed to plodding description. Stephen struggles with universal themes, such as faith despite enormous obstacles, love (both spiritual and romantic), egotism, class differences, and failure. Young adults will relate their own insecurities and concerns with Stephen's and Angeline's.
Includes helpful maps, prologue, and historical note.
Jennifer Caldwell is a youth librarian at Richmond Public Library in Richmond, BC.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.