Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Crispin: The Cross of Lead by Avi

I am a great reader--at least comparatively. There is hardly a book in my house or my cousins' across the field that I have not stuck my nose in at least once. But books do have a way of hiding and now and then one rises with unwonted benevolence and floats before my consciousness demanding to be read. Crispin: The Cross of Lead by Avi was such a one.
It has held court with several other dusty, unread novels on my older brother's bookshelf for years. I recall my Little House on the Prairie days when I skipped it because of the rather frightening, not wholly comfortable look of the boy on the cover. There were no sunbonnets or covered wagons, only a pale, wild-eyed fellow clutching a cross. No thank you. And so it remained in obscurity until this evening. I swear to you, it is the truth. Part of my reluctance to read it came from a neither-here-nor-there reaction to it from my brother. But I am quite a big girl now. I decided I'd see for myself what this book was made of.
I am far more accustomed to Avi's animal tales and lighter works... Poppy and Rye, The Secret School, etc.  But from the first chapter of Crispin my fancy was caught and in one evening (since before dinner until now) I have decimated the book nearly in its entirety. I have all of about two chapters left, I think, and all I can say is "By Jove this fellow can write!"
There is no need to reinvent the wheel, so here is Wikipedia's description:
Crispin: The Cross of Lead begins the day after Crispin’s mother, Asta, dies some time in 1377. Asta’s death sets a chain of events in motion that disrupts the dull but stable life Crispin had known up to that point. Crispin overhears John Aycliffe, the local steward, speaking with a stranger. When they realize he has been listening, they try to capture him. Failing, they make a public proclamation that Crispin stole from the manor house and declare him a “wolf’s head” a criminal outside of human society, who can be killed by anybody, anywhere. The village priest, Father Quinel, advises Crispin to leave town and start life somewhere else. As he is fleeing to start a new life, the steward is constantly on the look out for him. When Crispin starts to flee, he finds a village. This village is populated by no one except one large strong man nicknamed "the Bear". The Bear talks to Crispin once Crispin tells the Bear he is a wolf's head. The man grabs Crispin by the arm and makes Crispin swear to be his loyal servant. Bear, a traveling juggler, political agitator, and spy protects Crispin, helps him understand the society in which they live, and trains him to be a man, as his absent father never did. Crispin’s world had been so limited that every new encounter is a roller coaster; some are terrible, but some are wonderful. Through a series of adventures, Bear and Crispin become essentially foster father and son. As they do, they forge a new destiny and identity for Crispin, making him brave where he was frightened, inquisitive where he was passive, and free where he was essentially chained.
No more to be said! :) Two things that struck me in this book.

Thing One: With careful crafting of words and well-placed descriptions, Avi has created Crispin's world for the reader. I can essentially feel the mists he is walking through, see the places he treads, and all without leaving my chair by the fireside. It takes a masterful writer to completely do that to me. :)
Thing Two: There are relatively few characters in this book--only nine or ten that are specifically named. For me--a writer whose books are quite character-driven--the result was fascinating. I admire Avi's dexterity with words and the building of the characters he does have so that I hardly noticed the lack of superfluous people. [I admit to being accustomed to Dickens who could have as many has fifty distinct people in each tale.:P]
Thing Three: (Don't we all like surprises? ;) I was also impressed with the Christian themes running through Crispin, as I know it is not advertised as "Christian fiction." Crispin himself is a Catholic but his foster-father urges him to cast aside his rosaries, saints, priests etc. as no one needs anything to stand between himself and Jesus. I was delighted to find such themes sprinkled throughout the book

Anyway, as it is unusual for me to be so taken with a book I devote an entire evening to reading it as quickly as possible (Well, there was The Scarlet Pimpernel...;) I thought I'd share my newest discovery with you. :)
And on a departing note, The Scarlet-Gypsy Song is now at 23,104 words! I am very pleased, as the plot is not at all exhausted yet. :D

1 comment:

londongirl said...

Wow, that is great progress and accomplishment! I look forward to hear more about the story.