The Heathens and the Dragon: A 13th-Century Adventure
by Kate A. Boorman
Published by Thistledown Press
Review by Toby A. Welch
$16.95 ISBN 9781771872478
It’s been decades since I was in middle school, the suggested reading demographic for The Heathens and the Dragon. But I loved every word. Don’t let the age recommendation turn you off if you are a fan of fun historical fiction. This is an enjoyable read that people of all ages can get into.
The Heathens and the Dragon tells the story of a spunky 12-year-old named Elodie. She and her younger brother become orphans when their mother passes away and their master is arrested. Not sure how to survive, they attempt to follow and find him. They head into a forest, which is where the real spice in the book kicks in. They encounter a troubadour – a French medieval lyrical poet – who offers to help them and their amusing pet chicken. To survive, they create a music performance to make money for food and supplies. (The music and magic show they perform is called The Heathens and the Dragon, hence the name of the book.) A prevalent dynamic of the story is Pagan beliefs and rituals as well as resistance toward anyone who isn’t Christian. For example, we have Crusaders showing up to enforce their way of life. All the facets work together to make an entertaining tale.
As the title suggests, this is a historical read. It takes place in the 13th century and under Boorman’s hand, it is a fascinating time period. You have Eloise going to get flour from a miller, characters sleeping on beds made of straw, and moss and cobwebs used to treat wounds. Being thrust into a foreign world – France in the Middle Ages in this case – is always so much fun!
If you are unfamiliar with historical lingo, I suggest you take a quick glance at the glossary at the back of the book before diving in. It was super helpful for me as I had no idea what occitan, paratge, and languedoc were. If you want to know what Boorman means when she talks about a parfait (hint: it’s not a dessert), the glossary is a handy resource.
Do also take a moment to read the author’s note at the end. In it, Boorman discusses the historical context in The Heathens and the Dragon as well as the historical framework for the book; captivating information.
Usually a writer of young adult and children’s books, The Heathens and the Dragon is Boorman’s first foray into a book targeted at the middle-grade audience. This is her sixth novel and her writing experience shows through on every page. Her characters are well-developed and interesting. Her plot is as deep as the three hundred pages allowed. And her imagination shines through from start to finish. You can’t ask for more than that with a fiction read!
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