Nine companions set out on an epic adventure full of trials and dangers, some never to return. No, this is not Lord of the Rings, it’s Kevin-Crossley Holland’s Gatty’s Tale.
In the year 1203, nine companions set out on a great pilgrimage. The journey – on foot, on horseback and by sea – is fraught with danger. Not all of them will come home.
Among them is Gatty, whose whole life has been spent working in the fields. Bright, eager and resolute, with the singing voice of an angel, she is at the heart of this enthralling tale that sweeps across Europe to Jerusalem. We come to know the pilgrims intimately – their bickering, praying and joking, their loyalty and sacrifice as they face thieves and storms and precipices. Gatty herself faces many tribulations as her kind yet impulsive heart leads her (and others) into danger. Yet she is transformed by her experiences and by her exposure to people and places she could never have dreamed of. How can she go back to her old life in the Welsh Marches after this? And will she ever see the one person she can tell her heart to again?
THE BOOK BY ITS COVER
This was a book that was recommended to me by someone who’s reading taste I don’t trust. I was in no hurry to find a copy but when I stumbled across it in Poundland of all places, I figured I had nothing to lose.
My copy is paperback with a sort of tracing paper dustjacket. As odd as that sounds, I think of it as the pretty version. The cover itself is only a close up of a girl’s face and the dustjacket has all the information, as well as a beautiful, medieval vine pattern on it, but is translucent enough that the girl’s face is visible through it. Such a nice cover did make me more inclined to read it.
INSIDE THE BOOK
I don’t recall how old I was when I first read Gatty’s Tale. I think I might have been about the same age as the heroine (fifteen), certainly not much younger. Because of this, it was easier to identify with her though we have the same stubborn but curious temperament.
Kevin Crossley-Holland’s character development was excellent (don’t worry, no spoilers). From the impulsive Gatty, learning that the world is so much bigger than she ever imagined, to Lady Gwyneth, the leader of the pilgrimage and her quest for forgiveness, all the characters are deep and well-rounded. Even Nest, spiteful and stirring as she seems, is a complex character. It’s no small thing to have such a large cast and still give them all depth and an interesting character arc.
Besides the main party, there are a whole cast of interesting characters who come and go throughout the journey.
As for world-building, the author has done his research well. The attitudes and beliefs of the characters as well as the overall description and feel of the places they visit and the experiences they have feel true to the time. Some of their theology bothers me now that I am older but in reality, this was what people believed at the time.In terms of plot, this is one of my favourite stories. I’ve read it on multiple occasions and have enjoyed it every time. Although the language is perhaps simplistic to begin with, it does reflect the main character — an uneducated farm hand. Though I wasn’t sure about this, it does make it an easy read and a good book for children.
Gatty’s Tale makes me laugh, cry, and want to travel the world just as much with every new reading. The characters are endearing, the plot is gripping, and world is rich and captivating. And the ending gets me every time.
Content is always hard to evaluate in reviews. I recommend the book for ages ten or eleven upwards because there are some scary parts. These include a run-in with bandits in Switzerland where it is later implied that they were working for a man who was collecting and selling body parts on the black market. Another is when Gatty ends up on her own and some guys drag her down a back alley but Snout and Everard save her just in time. Be aware that the book crosses Europe and the Mediterranean during medieval times so there were some pretty uncomfortable things going on. The book is very good at implying these things without indulging in unnecessary detail.
Another caveat I suppose should be put out there is that if you require your stories to be theologically sound, this is not the book for you. As I mentioned before, these are medieval Welsh people on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Gatty’s Tale takes place around AD 1200 when people were uneducated and the Christian faith was heavily blended with politics and folk religion. The Reformation had not yet happened and people held a lot of unbiblical beliefs. This comes through in the story and there is one point where there is an Englishman, married to a Saracen, who says it doesn’t matter because they worship the same God in different ways. For me, this is not a problem in the sense that although many of Gatty’s and her fellow pilgrims’ beliefs are wrong and superstitious, it would not be true to the time period to have them believe otherwise.
I love this book. It’s an epic coming of age tale of an uneducated land girl dragged across Europe in the hope of reaching Jerusalem, all the while longing for home and hoping against hope that the one she loves will still be there if she returns.
The characters are well-crafted and realistic and the setting stunning. Even the plot is fascinating and I learned a lot about the time period. It’s a great read I’d recommend to pretty much anyone and one which I will definitely read again (even though I’ve read it several times already).
Favourite Character: Gatty (though I also love Snout, he’s so sweet and faithful!).
Favourite Part: When the cattle boy gives her a buttercup in the mountains. It’s just really sweet.
Favourite Quote: ‘And all!’
Rating: Three out of two of Saint Bartholomew’s shin bones.
If You Liked This You Might Like: The Roman Mysteries by Caroline Lawrence (for historical fiction); Here Lies Arthur by Philip Reeve (for Arthurian times and coming of age tales); and Beyond the Deepwoods By Paul Stewart and Chris Ridell (for epic adventure).