Sixteen-year-old Babylonne, an orphan reared to the Cathar faith in the Languedoc region of 13th-century France, suffers abuse and humiliation in the home of her aunt and grandmother. When she learns of plans to marry her off to a senile old man, she knows she must escape. Disguised as a boy, she sets out for Aragon to offer her services to the exiled Cathar warriors. Along the way she falls in with Isidore, a Roman Catholic priest who claims to have known her father. Just as she’s beginning to trust and admire this supposed enemy to her faith, she is captured by the same Cathar warriors she initially sought. Taken to a fortress doomed to attack by French Catholic forces, Babylonne must be strong and clever if she is to survive the siege and see Father Isidore again.
From the start, this novel thrusts the reader squarely into the muck and chaos of the Middle Ages. In fact, the plucky heroine gives an almost stream-of-consciousness account of every sight, sound, and nauseating smell. Catherine Jinks certainly possesses a scholar’s knowledge of the period, but at times seems to revel overmuch in the filth and stench of it all. Fans of fast-paced historical adventures with a vast array of colorful characters will find much to like here. Due to the gritty nature of Babylonne’s experiences, I would recommend the novel to readers 14 and up.