This is a stand-alone novel which follows Kevin Crossley-Holland’s Arthur trilogy. The main character is Gatty, Arthur’s brave, loving and open-hearted friend from the earlier books. Gatty is now fifteen and alone in the world at Caldicot. Although she is only a field-girl, her lord and lady recognise her potential and arrange for her to be taught to read and to sing. She is sent away to be second chamber servant to Lady Gwyneth of Ewloe – a widow who has lost her only child and intends going on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, taking eight pilgrims, including Gatty, with her.
One of the joys of this book is its clear, poetic depiction of this extraordinary journey, each stage of which is described and explained, along with the many people and strange foods, dress and customs the pilgrims encounter. Various adventures occur in which Gatty reveals her bravery and trusting nature – sometimes too trusting. The group reaches Venice, and what happens there leaves Gatty with a powerful sense of purpose as the pilgrimage continues. Jerusalem is not the holy place that the pilgrims had expected. It’s full of cheats and swindlers and people trying to make money from the sale of relics. But Gatty’s innate goodness creates holiness even in that mercenary place.
During the course of the story Gatty grows from a tomboyish, outspoken field girl to a young woman maturing in spirituality, knowledge and understanding of other cultures. She also becomes aware of her own beauty and sexual potential.
And so at last she comes home to the Marches, to what must surely be a very different destiny to that of the field-girl she once was. Perhaps another book will follow? Let’s hope so.