Troubadour by Mary Hoffman
Bloomsbury, 2010. ISBN 9780747592525.
(Age 12+) Recommended. Set in 13th century France, it is a time of great peril for Bertran, a troubadour who witnesses the murder of the Pope's legate. Realising that this means persecution for the True Believers (Cathars), he moves from castle to castle warning people of the probability of war. Elinor, a young noblewoman, believes she is in love with Bertran, and when faced with having to marry a man many years her senior, leaves her home with a group of troubadours, disguised as a boy. Danger encircles both as their homeland becomes a battlefield and thousands of Cathars are burnt alive.
I love historical novels and reading Troubadour brought alive a period in history that I knew little about. Rich in detail, Hoffman paints a horrifying picture of religious persecution and the greed that often lay behind it. During the period from 1209 and 1229, battles raged and castles were besieged. Both Christians and Cathars were killed. In one particularly horrific incident at Beziers, 20,000 citizens were put to the sword regardless of their faith.
Hoffman uses the journeys of both Bertran and Elinor to show the horror of the Crusade. The story is told in alternative chapters from the point of view of these two main characters and along the way the reader becomes very familiar with historical figures from the time and the feudal system. Notes and a glossary at the back also provide extra information that I consulted from time to time and read carefully when I had finished the book.
The historical events overshadow any romance in the book. Indeed I kept reading to see if Bertran and Elinor would ever manage to catch up with each other but in a time when refugees are streaming from warfare, that was not very probable. However both are so well described that I felt I knew them very well. Bertran's religious beliefs underpinned his character, and Elinor comes of age as she learns the poetry of the travelling troubadour group and then uses it as a noblewoman.
This book will appeal to the thoughtful reader who likes to learn about history, and will challenge those readers who enjoyed the Stravaganza series by the same author.