‘Rib tooth thumb shin dust skull home,’ I whispered to myself. How grand those words sounded. Like a prayer.
‘Tooth is my next task, and challenging it will be. But I am more optimistic, now that I have a boy who can climb.’ He slipped the book into his robes. ‘The first task I’ve already accomplished. Do you know the story of St Peter, Boy?’
‘Of St Peter?’ Indeed I did, from Father Petrus. ‘Peter was a simple fisherman, but he because the very first pope of Rome, and now he minds the gates of heaven.’
The pilgrim nodded. ‘You’ve been taught well. Guard that pack, Boy. Guard it as you would your life. For in that pack rests one of Saint Peter’s ribs.’
(From The Book Of Boy by Catherine Gilbert Murdock. P31.)
The year is 1350. Boy looks after the goats which belonged to the lady of the manor. He knows he is different because of his hump, and wishes people would stop calling him a monster.
One day a stranger arrives. Secundus is on a quest and he takes Boy as his servant. Seven relics are waiting to be found and the person to unite them will gain entry to heaven.
A quest begins from France to Italy, Church to Church, as Boy and Secundus find the bones of St Peter.
A brilliant middle-grade quest set in 1300s Europe. This story takes characters from religion but throws in a whole new fantasy. What if the one to unite a set of relics could gain entry to Heaven? What might that mean in the 1300s, when people were terrified of being condemned to an eternity in hell?
Boy is a wonderful character. He has a special connection with animals – he is able to communicate with them without using words. Throughout the quest he is followed and found by different animal friends. Boy’s biggest wish is that people will stop seeing him as a monster. He continues on the quest because he wants St Peter to make him a real boy. Although I knew what Boy had essentially to learn, there is a wonderful twist. No spoilers here.
Secundus is fabulous too. He reeks of hell and he shows no obvious affection for Boy, plucking him from the manor because he sees that Boy might be able to help him. Slowly we learn more about Secundus and his remarkable history. I love it when an author makes me think deeper about a character.
The setting takes in a period of history which isn’t particularly common in children’s fiction. The depth in which the time-period is explored is fantastic – Secundus’s explanations to Boy about different situations and locations act as information to the reader and the result is that I finished the novel wanting to know more about Europe in this period.
It is great to find a strong stand-alone novel and I would recommend this to both children and big kids. This will be a hit with fans of Penelope Lively – it has just the same balance of history, action and remarkable situation as Lively’s best novels.
Thanks to Chicken House Books for my copy of The Book Of Boy. Opinions my own.