Thursday, August 17, 2006

Crispin at the Edge of the World by Avi

This book came in a month earlier than I anticipated as per what my pre-order date read. I loved the Newberry winning first instalment, "Crispin: The Cross of Lead", and was eagerly awaiting the next two volumes in the supposed trilogy.

Avi is the kind of writer ( specifically in the Crispin books ) that proves YA authors and childrens authors often have a more treacherous task and are required to be more openly resilient than certain adult authors. If anyone ever doubted that children's writing was a serious art craft, well, Avi proves them otherwise. He is a wordsmith of the first degree and paints a beautiful, medieval landscape. His prose is scintillating. Though often distilled and acute to make it clear for his age group demographic ( and perhaps to loan itself to oral recitation), Avi is a splendid writer. I kept hanging on his words.

His pacing is also wonderful; which is one of the most difficult tasks I think a YA author must undertake.

Despite its literate beauty and historical interest, this was a rather depressing way to glue two framing books together. It didn't end on a cliffhanger, but on a death.

As to the characters, Crispin remains a sprite and intriguing narrator. Avi centers more on the coming-of-age story backdropping the front conflict and I was eager to learn more about Crispin's desire to be a "man" as he watches Bear ( the guardian/minstrel he met and hooked up with in volume 1 ) in a new context. Crispin learns more and more about his mentor and becomes unsure as to whether life ( and people, for that matter ) can be shelved in the extremity of black or white. The current war they find in ravaged Rye, and the wars that Bear fought in previously cause Bear to remember a less than happy past.

Bear, the monstrous, redheaded, humorous oaf never fully recovers his spry spirit ( think the Ghost of Christmas Present ) after his bout in a prison at the end of "Cross of Lead." As such, Avi completely ruled out humour because we are sure as heck were not going to derive it from Crispin ( too serious ) or Troth ( too scared ).

Troth is a character who joins their band in this volume. And it was interesting to watch her character progress alongside Crispin's. She has a harelip ( think Precious Bane ! ) and introduces a folkloric, pagan tradition to the otherwise heavily-steeped Christian forefront of Avi's tale.

This book despite its beautiful prose and steafast plot, left me feeling empty. Perhaps because it was so melancholic. I realize the conflict of the late 14th Century lends itself to such scrutiny, but nonetheless, I kept hankering for the first " Crispin": the lighthearted one with the dodging of arrows and the traveling from town-to-town with offers of a song and dance.

As such, immediately after finishing " Edge of the World", I picked up the first one again for another roll.

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