Sorry for my absence the past two weeks – life has a way of running away with me! But I’m back, and on track with a new historical fiction book for y’all to check out. Babylonne, by Catherine Jinks takes place in early thirteenth century Toulouse – which at that time was a separate country from France. Toulousians follow the Cathar faith and are persecuted by the constantly invading and Catholic French. Enter Babylonne, bastard daughter of a Catholic priest (from a previous series by Jinks) and a Good Woman of Cathar.
Poor Babylonne has lived with her cruel aunt and grandmother for sixteen years, bearing the brunt of their scorn at her shameful birth. Facing a forced marriage to an old, disgusting lout, Babylonne runs away to join the fight against the French – only to be intercepted by a Catholic priest who claims to have known her father. Journeying together though the war-torn countryside, Babylonne finds her beliefs thrown upside down as she witnesses the brutality of warfare but also the redeeming power of human compassion.
Watching her transition from hardscrabble, jaded, and yet still naïve girl to mature young woman is inevitable yet also heartening. Babylonne has had a hard path to walk, no matter which way you spin it – her mother was martyred shortly after Babylonne’s birth when the French took Lavaur, her remaining family abused her, and her faith and country are being slowly stamped out.
However, she is still a sassy, intelligent, and intrepid character who faces it all down with a fistful of pepper (literally) and a pair of scissors. Even when she finds several essential truths about herself to be false, she is never cowed, never frozen, never gives up. She meets heretics from both religious camps, sees both the heroism and horror of warfare, and still manages to think her own thoughts on it all. That, I think, is her best quality – she always has an opinion!
This is aided by the fact that the story is told through the very close first person; so close in fact that you get passages like this:
I’d better run the other way. Off you go, Babylonne. One, two, three, go!
I’d better head for the—
“Thieving whore!” (Where did he—? How did he—? It’s as if he sprang out of the ground!) “Give me that chicken!”
You want this chicken?
“Yowch!” It hits him full in the face.
Personally, I find this style to be slightly too close, as it were. It’s distracting and almost, well… campy. Just a little slapstick, you know? The exclamations, the fragmented narration – but that’s just me. While it certainly gives you an intimate glimpse into how Babylonne’s mind works, I don’t believe that anyone thinks directly at themself like that, as if directing a separate person.
Other than that, however, Jinks’ depiction of feudal France is visceral and detailed. The food, the clothing, the disgusting (by current standards) conditions, and bizarre medical beliefs. As a historical piece, this story works beautifully, and Jinks almost seems to delight in grossing you out!
Nevertheless, Babylonne rates a JG on the PSA. It is the last book in The Pagan Chronicles, the previous four books of which feature the adventures of Babylonne’s father, Pagan Kidrouk, during the last of the Crusades.