The Book of Boy by Catherine Gilbert Murdock. Link to Amazon.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
France. 1350. A manor. A young boy, simply named Boy, with no family; those who protected him, those who looked after them, are gone. A stranger comes, a pilgrim visiting holy places and holy relics. He needs help and takes the young boy with him on a journey to find Rib, Tooth, Thumb, Toe, Dust, Skull, Tomb, that will bring them all the way to the once great city of Rome.
Historical fiction set in medieval times? Yes, please.
Fiction that treats the world view of the people of the time as true? Yes, please.
Secundus, the pilgrim, has lost his wife and son and is convinced that if he finds the relics of Saint Peter -- the parts of the saint's body that are scattered across Europe and venerated by Christians -- and brings them all together at the saint's tomb, reuniting the body, that then his wish, his desire, his prayer to once again see his wife Flavia and son Lucius will be granted.
Boy at first goes along because the Cook at the manor tells him to (and because she has a prayer of her own) and also because he has his own desire: to be rid of the hump on his back, the reason he is mocked and bullied, the reason he isn't like the others. All he wants is to be a real boy, like the others around him.
Boy tells the story, and he has been raised at a manor by a small village with little knowledge of the outside world. He has been raised by a priest so has a strong view of what is right and wrong. His adventure takes him away, and introduces him to the concept of grey as he realizes that Secundus will lie, cheat, and steal to get the items on his list.
Boy's story also reveals to himself the truth of his origins, the truth of who he is --a truth that many readers will pick up before Boy, because of what Boy tells them.
This story has fantastical elements. Boy can can also hear the thoughts of animals, and they hear his. Saints, and their relics, are real: Boy touches them and they are warm. Secundus touches them and he burns -- one of the reasons he needs Boy's help.
I loved the adventure, the details of the world of 1350 (the wolves of Rome!), that Saint Peter is real, and the reveal of who Boy is. I also liked how while there was danger and violence, there was also kindness and hope. A good mix of the world as it is and the world as one would hope it would be.
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