By Mary Hoffman
Published by Bloomsbury
ISBN 978 0 7475 9251 8
Mary Hoffman, a skilled writer of historical fiction for teens, takes us back to the South of France at the start of the 13th century in Troubadour, her latest time-travelling escapade.
The Cathars, a peaceful religious group who have broken away from the all-powerful Roman Catholic Church, are slowly gaining power. The Pope has ordered their lands to be seized and anyone who sympathises with their cause to be killed. Soldiers are rooting out the Cathars and their supporters before they can gain more popularity.
In the castle of nobleman Lanval de Sevignan, Elinor, the lord's 13-year-old daughter has her own problems. Young ladies in her position live completely under the will of their fathers.
Young noblewomen were often married off to unsuitable husbands to ensure the security of their fathers' lands. Elinor's father has chosen a local middle-aged landowner as her betrothed and she has had no say in her upcoming nuptials.
Troubadour is a story about religious persecution, poetry, love and war. A troubadour was a French medieval poet who travelled the countryside, writing and performing poems. They were highly regarded entertainers who were always warmly welcomed.
Hoffman's troubadour, Bertran, witnesses the savage murder of the Pope's chief local representative. Bertran is a secret believer in the Cathar cause, and knows this murder will bring war to the region. As a troubadour, he is free to travel without suspicion; he knows he must use this freedom to warn others of the impending danger.
Meanwhile Elinor takes her life into her own hands. To escape her forthcoming marriage, she disguises herself as a boy and joins a band of troubadours. The young noblewoman meets Bertran on his unenviable quest to spread the word about impending doom, and discovers that the life of a troubadour is not all pretty poetry and adoring fans.
The author has clearly done careful research to bring this period of history alive for modern readers. Her simple storytelling style takes the story to a satisfying conclusion without the background overwhelming the characters. Hoffman clearly loves history, and she has created a lively hero, heroine and plot to keep readers hooked as real historical events play out.
Two people caught up in the violent pages of the past: it's been done before, but Hoffman has enough experience to make Troubadour a gripping read for both fans and non-fans of historical fiction.
John Millen can be contacted on MillenBookshelf@aol.com