Babylonne, by Catherine Jinks, is the story of a sixteen-year-old girl in early-thirteenth century Languedoc. It is a time of war, persecution, and religious controversy. Jinks’ knowledge of the era as a scholar lends a truth and vividness to the coming of age tale of a young, feisty girl in the middle of a war. She is able to paint everything from the sights, sounds, and smells of monasteries to the sights, sounds, and smells of wars and infirmaries inside besieged fortresses. Her writing is not for the weak of heart, or the weak of stomach in some places.
Babylonne is a young woman who has spent her life surrounded by bloodshed and abuse and has remained an independent thinker despite it all. She never knew her mother, a Good Christian, and never knew her father, an Arab-born Roman priest. She lives with her aunt and other women in a convent of sorts. As she is considered to be a bastard child, because her father was a Roman priest, she is mistreated and abused in many ways. Finally, when she is going to be married off to a man who is so old that he sees everything as giant bouncing olives, she makes a run for it.
While Babylonne runs through her city, stolen goods in tow, she runs into a Roman priest, Isidore, whom she despises at first. Gradually, Isidore teaches her to trust and the differences between her faith and his faith come into question and are open for debate. Her original wish, to fight for the exiled lords against the French, comes into question as she learns what war really means. Babylonne’s honest voice is dramatic, humorous, and sometimes heartbreaking.
The one thing that I truly wish was different with this book is the cover art. Babylonne is supposed to be as dark as a Moor but the cover art shows her as pale, brown-eyed, and red-haired. While the cover is dramatic and beautiful, I wish that it showed the main character as she is written because everything else is so carefully researched and laid out. Overall, Jinks’ writing style is easy to get into and the historical knowledge makes Babylonne’s world leap off the page.