Crispin: Cross of Lead, by Avi

“Asta’s Son” is all he’s ever been called. The lack of a name is appropriate, because he and his mother are but poor peasants in 14th century medieval England. But this thirteen-year-old boy who thought he had little to lose soon finds himself with even less – no home, no family, or possessions.

Accused of a crime he did not commit, he is proclaimed a ‘wolf’s head’, meaning anyone may kill him on sight. To remain alive, he flees his tiny village, his only possessions being a newly revealed name – Crispin – and his mother’s cross of lead.

crispin

There are a couple of interesting parts about this story that make Avi stand out.

I couldn’t figure out what Avi’s intentions were with Crispin. His character was a little confusing, and also a little passive. He’s supposed to be that way though, but it makes character growth tough because he suddenly comes across as caring a little too much all at once. However, Crispin’s companion takes the cake in his world philosophy, and thought provoking ideas.

The history aspect was fairly good, although I felt that some of the small details included may be uninteresting to non-history lovers, even though it set a good picture of Medieval poverty in my head. I would probably only recommend it to people who like historical fiction.

I didn’t feel like it was Newberry award-winning material, mostly because the plot is not particularly original for Avi. He has quite a few other books that touch on the subject of innocent-accused (True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, City of Orphans, etc.), so I’m still waiting for an Avi novel to surprise me. That being said, it is still a good story and one that kids will enjoy.

Note: it does have some violence, and some gruesome descriptions of several people, long dead. He did a careful job of making it kind of gross, but nothing that would probably stick in your head forever.

Overall Rating: 3.5/5

Violence: 3.5/10 (some people, long dead, are gross; one part in which a man is impaled (very brief), and one part in which a man is stabbed (also very brief))

Language: 1/10

Inappropriateness/Romance: 2/10 (nothing horrible, but there is a little bit of talk about the illegitimate children of a great Lord, which comes into play later)

Audience: Ages 10 and up, as long as they don’t mind a little violence.

Seraphina, by Rachel Hartman

Ever since dragons and the humans of Goredd made a peace treaty, the dragons work hard to become like the humans, including taking on human shape. Although not the same as a human, still with dragon instincts and motives, it has worked. For the most part. Up until now. Everything begins to fall apart as the annual treaty celebration approaches. When a member of the royal family dies under suspicious circumstances, the dragons are the first to be assumed as the culprit. Who, and why, are undetermined.

Seraphina, a girl who is unusually musically talented, is mysteriously drawn into the investigation by an unknown connection to the suspect. Caught in the middle as the go-between, confusion reigns as she struggles with her own emotions and trying to keep the truth about who she really is from the people she loves most.

seraphina

This book is very well-written; the inner tension and turmoil is perfect, and just enough questions to keep you guessing throughout the whole book. It was paced fairly well, especially for a long book. One thing I wasn’t sure about was some of the fantasy words; I listened to the audio, but the unfamiliar spelling way of wording things made this a good audio choice. I didn’t have to pronounce those strange words myself.

The characters were fantastic! Especially Seraphina, in all her crankiness, was fresh and different, although if I knew her in person she would not come across as so. The supporting characters were fairly good as well, but Seraphina stands out as one of the strongest protagonists I’ve ever read about.

It also was not as clean as I would prefer; there is an awkward topic, which I cannot mention without spoiling it, that makes this an inappropriate choice for elementary-age kids. Nothing happens in it that I would not recommend it to a teen. For a little more info, I’ll include a spoiler (this is a major spoiler) if you’re really worried about the content (highlight the bottom section).

Overall Rating: 4/5

Violence: 3/10 (can’t remember, I think there may have been a stabbing, but it wasn’t memorable)

Language: 3/10 (some, nothing really bad)

Inappropriateness/Romance: 4/10 (mostly awkward topics, but nothing inappropriate ever actually happens.)

Audience: Ages 12 and up

Because dragons have a human form, it is possible for dragons and humans to have children. This is a big part of the book, and is talked about quite a lot. It comes across as awkward, mainly because dragons are NOT humans, and is disgusting to the other characters. Nothing ever happens that would give me pause to not recommend it to a teen, but the topic was a large enough part of the story that I thought it inappropriate for anyone under 12.