Angel Fish by Lili Wilkinson

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Black Dog Books, September 2009, YA, 252 pages paperback

Back-cover blurb:
A charismatic religious leader has come to the village. Stefan has convinced Gabriel that only children will be able to liberate the Holy Land from the Infidel.

Together they raise an army and make the arduous journey over the Alps to the Mediterranean—Stefan’s promise that the ocean will part before them urging them on.

But the power of Stefan’s promises dim as they suffer misadventures again and again. Gabriel must face his doubts and the questions that plague him.

Who is Stefan? Is he really a holy prophet? Or has he doomed them all? And can they survive on faith alone?

Angel Fish is very loosely based on the Children's Crusade in the 13th century, and is told by Gabriel, who meets Stephan, a boy who claims to speak to God, and who has grand plans for how an army of children will defeat the Saracen.

This is an incredibly interesting premise - I haven't read any fiction, let alone fiction for teenagers, that covers the Children's Crusade - and what follows is an incredibly novel. Angel Fish is beautifully told in deceptively simple language, by Gabriel, as he follows Stephan on their way to the Holy Land, gathering children as they go. Gabriel has unwavering faith in Stephan, and that he really is a holy prophet, but his singlemindedness and utter faith was at times frustrating.

Something that I really loved was the relationships between Gabby and the other children, especially Ines and Fox-boy. Their journey was incredibly difficult both physically and emotionally, and I felt it was written really wonderfully - the simplicity of it made it all the more powerful.

Lili Wilkinson is such a versatile author, writing both historical and contemporary fiction (like her recently released novel Pink) seamlessly. Angel Fish was easy to read (writing-wise; it lacked the flowery prose that's in a lot of historical fiction, and I liked that), but was so emotionally evocative. The characters stayed with me long after I finished reading.

I'd recommend this to teenagers who are looking for a story with a substance and powerful read.


I've gone to check it out 'Children's Crusade' on Wikipedia, and there are only really general things said about it: The Children's Crusade is the name given to a variety of fictional and factual events which happened in 1212 that combine some or all of these elements: visions by a French or German boy; an intention to peacefully convert Muslims in the Holy Land to Christianity; bands of children marching to Italy; and children being sold into slavery.
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