Pagan in Exile is the second in a series of four books about a medieval squire and his exploits in the Holy Land and France. Pagan is an Arab Christian who was brought up in a monastery in Bethlehem but joined the Knights Templar when he was 16 as Lord Roland’s squire and fought in the battles of the crusades in Jerusalem. It’s now 1188, Jerusalem has fallen to the Infidels and he accompanies Roland back to his family in southern France, ostensibly to rally men to join the crusades.
Through Pagan’s narration Jinks maintains a consistent, witty and honest tone. He does not spare us the gory details, whether it’s about bloodshed and war or family feuding and violent emotions. The use of modern idiom, such as ‘bottling up his feelings’ for describing how Pagan is feeling or how he views Roland’s awful family of rival brothers and barbaric father is refreshing and down to earth.
Jinks packs a lot in and it would help to have a dramatis personae at the beginning, as many of the names of the characters are similar and yet unfamiliar (being from Medieval French). There’s a selective glossary at the end, which is some help, but does not, for example, include ‘heretic’ even though the main female character, Esclaramonde, belongs to a community of heretics on Lord Roland’s father’s land.
However the inclusion of Esclaramonde is typical of how Jinks gives a flavour of medieval life, from literacy being unusual to the hunt of a stag and on to the bloody feuds between the church and the ruling families. In her portrayal of Pagan as an Arab with dark skin Jinks also gives a taste of medieval racism, as he encounters women who won’t let their children near him on the assumption that he’s an infidel.
Pagan is a knowing and wise-beyond-his-years narrator yet his dry comments are never out of place and when the action is heartbreaking his commentary is appropriate. There are two more Pagan books due out in the UK (all four were published in Australia ten years ago) and it’s likely he’ll have fans waiting for them eagerly.