Book Review No. 13: Crispin: The Cross of Lead by Avi
Series: Crispin, no. 1 (trilogy)
Genre: Middle-Grade Historical Fiction (ish)
Content for the Sensitive Reader: Some gory scenes with bloodshed and a hanged man, uses of Christian figures as oaths/protective watchwords/exclamations/startled prayers. May be too intense for very young readers.
Completion Date: Summer 2017
BookmarkedOne Rating: 9/10
So amidst all my grumblings while reading The Wise Man’s Fear and planning a review for The Name of the Wind, I thought I could use a lighter review. Something I can admit to liking without cringing and adding “Except for these few things that are pockmarks on the face of an otherwise perfect illustration of the Mona Lisa of books…”
Settle back and relax, lock the library door, give your dragon her cup of tea, and read on, because this is a personal favorite.
Honestly, I think this is the best book Avi has ever written. And of his books (how many are there now?), you could say I’ve read a few. The Secret School was my first, I think all of the Poppy books, The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, City of Orphans, Bright Shadow, The End of the Beginning, A Beginning, A Muddle, and an End, The Good Dog, The Player King, Romeo and Juliet–Together (And Alive!) at Last, The Book Without Words…you get the idea. So I have some right to an opinion.
And of Avi’s books, this one is the best.
It took a while before I read it.
I’d seen Crispin on the shelf, of course. And yes, it did seem to whisper to me, begging to be read every time my fingertips traced its spine.
But I was cautious. I stayed away for a long time. I’d take it out when I was wandering through the stacks, inspect the torch-bearing figures behind the boy on the cover–beautiful cover, by the way–then put it back. Once, I went as far as to read the first chapter or so. I got put off by the depressing opening and put it back (silly, chicken-brained idea! Don’t judge, I can say that. I’ve met chickens).
But eventually, after this lengthy “courtship,” I did pick it up and carry it home with me.
Of course now, I wish I’d grabbed and gobbled it up ages ago. Such is a self-appointed librarian’s life.
It was delicious from beginning to end.
Okay, that might be a strange term for some of you. It’s a depressing book. But what I should have realized before Crispin is that apparently I love depressing books. Ex.–my devotion to Oliver Twist.
Crispin opens with a funeral. And it follows that up with the entire world wanting to kill Crispin, a gallows-tree, a village where the plague has been–you get the idea.
But I loved it. Why?
Well…mostly for Crispin himself. He’s such a sweet-hearted boy! No matter what happens, he remains true to what he knows is right. His faith is unwavering, and his courage and devotion to friends is without end. I love that about him. How the shivering coward of a boy without a friend in the world could prove himself to be the most courageous and noble of them all.
I’ve realized since reading Crispin: The Cross of Lead that Crispin has strongly influenced a favorite character in my “Most convoluted and beloved working writing project.” It’s as complicated as it sounds.
Besides that, there’s also a juggler.
Now that I think about it, this was probably during the two years I was reading about jugglers a lot. Just happened that way–Leonard from Heartless, Dustfinger from Cornelia Funke’s glorious Inkheart (he does take the cake, as far as jugglers go), and Bear from Crispin.
I loved Bear.
There are so many little things that Avi adds to his character–details that hint about another life, a character that’s so much more than he seems at first glance. He’s one of those characters that seems coarse and uncaring but inside–ah, on the inside!
And he juggles. And dances. And he wears the motley and the belled hat. I love that too.
I imagine if I were dropped into the middle of their story, I would be hard pressed to decide if I wanted to knock Crispin or Bear over by barreling into them for a hug first. Probably Crispin. Maybe both at once.
Besides the beautiful characters, Avi also slips in–with glorious subtlety so it doesn’t feel like a book with an agenda–
Ideas about your family making you who you are, the blood in your veins, and nobility. We have so many fantasy books, myths, and stories where magic/nobility/heroism goes by families. “Oh, of course XYZ character is special. He’s the son of Poseidon.” “Yes, our prince also comes from a long lineage of dragonslayers, but naturally we kept that information from him due to plot so he can now have character identity revolution.” Of course.
Personally, I got utterly sick of it. The fact that Avi addresses and refutes that idea rather than going along with it is so endlessly refreshing. He phrases it all so perfectly I know I could never write it better. Shouldn’t even try. Don’t try to outdo perfection.
And the setting…
It’s not a glittery fairytale, even though it’s intended for middle grades. There’s grit and blood and dirt and pain and times you wonder if everyone really will make it out alive, despite the Immortality of Main Character first rule of writing juvenile fiction. That part of it makes the story breathtakingly more real.
Let’s not forget the music…
I have a terrible weakness for music in books if it’s written well. Mostly from playing music myself. Crispin didn’t have as many gooey poetic lines about it as say, The Name of the Wind. But the description of wandering players is quite good. It has a very real feeling to it, with someone just learning to play.
I could probably rant about how much I loved this book forever. It helped fill the hole left behind after reading The Lord of the Rings and wondering if I’d ever find another truly glorious book again. Not to say in the least they are the same.
How could you tell I loved it?
Well, shortly after finishing it, I sort of…forced two other people to read it…They did confess liking it too, for the record. I picked up recorder again as a hobby instrument in hopes of taking it to the faire sometime. And I failed miserably at juggling but kept doing it anyway.
Because for a book that good, I want to keep pieces of it with me wherever I go. As Cornelia says in Inkheart, if you take a favorite book with you when you go to a new place, you still carry a piece of home.