I recently read and reviewed the first book in Avi's Crispin trilogy, Crispin: The Cross of Lead. This series is set in the year 1377, during a period of political and social crisis in England. The protagonist is Crispin, a poor orphan. Crispin grew up in a small village, but had to flee due to persecution from the local steward. In the first book he threw in his lot with Bear, a traveling entertainer and father figure.
The second book, Crispin: At the Edge of the World, begins where the first book left off, with Crispin and Bear jubilantly making their way out of the city of Great Wexly, and into the world. Their happiness is short-lived, however, as they are soon attacked by a man who believes that Bear has betrayed a secret brotherhood. Bear is gravely injured.
With Bear wounded and unable to take his customary charge of the situation, Crispin has to grow up quickly. The two are taken in by a elderly healer woman named Aude and her adopted daughter, Troth. Aude and Troth are not Christian, which is very difficult for Crispin to understand and accept at first. He also has trouble adjusting to Troth's cleft palate (which caused her birth parents to abandon her, and which was generally considered to be a mark of the Devil at the time). Eventually, however, Aude and Troth's kindness breaks through his barriers, and Crispin's worldview expands to accept them.
Through continuing bad luck, Troth, Crispin, and Bear end up back on the road together, an unconventional but loyal family. They remain on the run from the angry brotherhood that attacked Bear, and from Crispin's enemies, and they seek refuge by the sea. The mere existence of the sea is remarkable to Crispin and Troth, who had both previously led very sheltered lives. Here's the conversation in which Crispin first learns about the sea:
"The sea, Crispin, is water—also called ocean—which covers the world in greater magnitude than land."
"You mock me," I said, scoffing at such an absurdity.
This book struck me as more poetic in its writing than the first in the series, perhaps reflecting the increasing sophistication of the narrator, Crispin. Here are a couple of examples:
"Shards of colored glass lay about on the ground—as if a rainbow had fallen from the sky and shattered"; and
"Oh, dear, great Bear in ragged tunic, whose soul fairly burst with the sheer joy of living, a breathing blessing to all who saw him ..."
Overall, I think that this book is that rare second book of a trilogy that is better than its predecessor. Crispin's character continues to mature and evolve, and his friendship with Troth is engaging and realistic. The adventures that befall the small family contain a nice balance of exciting action and realistic historical detail. We learn more about Bear's past, and the experiences that have made him the way that he is. Avi's writing is spare and concise, yet also lyrical. This is the kind of book that I'll think about long after I've finished reading it. I look forward to the concluding book in the series.
Book: Crispin: At the Edge of the World
Publisher: Hyperion Books for Children
Original Publication Date: September 1, 2006
Age Range: 9-12
Source of Book: I received an advance proof of this book from Tara Koppel at Raab Associates.
Other Reviews: See also A Fuse #8 Production's review of this book. She's somewhat more harsh on this book than I am, and the two reviews together may give you a more balanced perspective.
© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.