The Devil's Crossing by Hana Cole
I thought I knew my history, but the story of the Children's Crusade, where thousands of shepherd and country boys walked from their rural homes in France and Italy with the dream of liberating the Holy Land, was new to me.
From this tragic story - with many of these misguided children exploited and sold into slavery - Hana Cole has fashioned a complex page-turner rich with the ingredients we look for in a thriller. There is a falsely accused heretic, forbidden love, and a son unaware of his father's identity.
The Church does not come well out of this, nor does the French aristocracy. From the cruel and hypocritical Inquisitor, Bernard de Nogent, with 'his avian eyes', to the murderous Amaury, Lord of Maintenon.
The characters are well-fleshed. We have a young priest so overcome by pity and desire that he forgets to 'ink the nib of his quill' and subsequently begins to doubt his faith. There are strong heroines, two of good birth and another obliged to sell her body to survive, who stand their ground despite the imbalance of power between men and women. There is also, unusually, a child hero. I fully engaged with young Etienne in his physical and mental journey, from innocence, to awareness, to a determination to escape a future as a slave.
Add to this exciting mix a vivid sense of setting, from the unbearable heat of the Cairo slave markets to the gothic horror of a French crypt full of murdered girls, and you have a thought-provoking and gripping read.
Hana Cole is a Medievalist, an astronomer and a cat lover. The Devil's Crossing, published this spring, is her debut novel.