2006 has been a good year for Newbery sequels. First Louis Sacher comes out with, "Small Steps", his follow-up to "Holes". Then Avi does the same with the second part of his Crispin series. "Crispin: At the Edge of the World" begins at the precise moment that "Crispin: The Cross of Lead" ended. Like its predecessor, the book is chock full of intelligent contemplations on the nature of "good" and "evil". More importantly, with this book Avi is taking the time to show that a human being is a tricky changeable thing. That said, this is the weaker of the two books and feels very much to be the middle section of a three part series. There's much to admire in Avi's writing here, but I had a hard time getting past some of the story's sadism to truly think it worthy reading.
When last we saw our young hero Crispin and Bear, his stalwart fatherly companion, the two had just left Great Wexly, but not before the elder of the two had suffered some severe torture. Weakened, Bear is further wounded by members of the secretive rebel brotherhood, to whom he belonged. The brotherhood now believes that Bear has betrayed them and they will stop at nothing to seek his death. Soon the two join up with a disfigured girl named Troth who helps to heal them and keep them safe. The three decide the next course of action is to find somewhere safe to live. Unfortunately the brotherhood is not so easily dissuaded and on top of everything else, Bear is increasingly perturbed by the fate of his own soul. Apparently there are things in the man's past that haunt him still. Now Crispin must put away his idealized Bear and exchange him for something far more human. However unpleasant this change may be.
I was a little shocked at the fate of Bear in this book. In "Cross of Lead", he was a bold, brash, bossy, wonderful fellow. He lent the title the joy, humor, and common sense it so sorely needed. Take away a humorous Bear and what you're left with is 14th century muck and misery. I understand that to allow Crispin to grow, he needed to become independent of Bear. Keep Bear an active/interactive character and Crispin will never be able to show that when push comes to shove he's a worthy and remarkable person. I understand this. Still, Avi takes it too far. Bear's misery starts on page 2 and ends on 228 (three pages from the final Author's Note). The suffering he feels at the hands of his own author is almost sadistic. If he hasn't just been weakened by torture or received an arrow through his arm then he's engulfed in fever or dragged by his neck from a horse. Avi leaves Bear with little to no dignity in this book, and I for one resented the fact. Yes, he had to become human in Crispin's eyes and maybe humbled as well. But did you have to drag out his misery in the physical, spiritual, AND emotional sense? Did Avi himself hate this character so much that he couldn't allow him his usual humor, thereby making the story that much more difficult to (pardon the word) bear? And will kids reading this book feel inclined to carry on in the series if a beloved character is destroyed in this manner? Imagine if J.K. Rowling tortured and wreaked Hagrid from the Harry Potter books. Because that is akin what I feel Avi has done to poor Bear here.
The quest Crispin seeks in this book is to find a safe place where he, Bear, and Troth can all live. Yet once the reader reaches the end of the book they find that this quest was basically doomed all along. At least one of the groups of bad guys in this book has inadvertently won and our heroes lose one of their members along the way. Now let's be clear that I think the emotional journey Crispin takes in this book is well worth following. From the moment he mentions that he couldn't think of Bear as anything but "goodness itself", you can understand what the poor kid is going through. Nobody wants to see their hero brought low. And the writing itself often trips into the meaningful. "Lying there in the darkness, I though: is that what it is to be older - to know there are things you are afraid to know?" Or when our three protagonists find themselves on a little boat in the middle of a deadly storm and, "our sail had split into several parts, and was now flapping like so many flags - each one an offer of surrender." THAT makes a book worthy reading, people. That is superb prose. If only the book had cheered up once in a while as well. There are moments, as when the characters settle briefly in a little island village, when you could label such passages as "less dark". They're never light though, and that means that the book itself, for all its beauty, is a depressing piece. This wouldn't be so bad, except that, in an emotional sense, the book fails to deliver the punch a reader would require of it. If you can't laugh with a book then you may have a hard time crying as well.
The title is a touch deceptive. Certainly the ending of the book consists of the story's characters deciding amongst themselves to high-tail it North to the "edge of the world". Still, to my mind that means that the third book in the series should have borne this title. Oh well. That's nitpicking. The Author's Note in the back provides the average reader with further information pertaining to such things as who John Ball was, the fate of Richard II, and a tiny bit of info on the Hundred Years War. Do not expect, however, that kids reading this book will get much more info out of it than that. For further reading Avi just says this: "A good deal of information about the Bremen Cog may be found on the Internet." Uh... duh. Howzabout mentioning where on the Internet to look?
I know I'm being unduly harsh on poor "At the Edge of the World". I guess that "Cross of Lead" just lifted my expectations and I was hoping for something equally entrancing. It seems a bit ridiculous at this point to mention that "At the Edge of the World" is still heads and tails better than much of what is churned out and placed on booksellers' shelves. Still, when you take into consideration the whole of the Avi oeuvre (if I ever have a band I'm naming it The Avi Oeuvre) this book simply does not stand up. It's perfectly nice, but I am looking forward to the third in the series. Let's see if Avi can make us smile again.
"What kind of men -- I wondered -- were these that killed by day, drank by night, but prayed each morning?"
If you have yet to read CRISPIN: THE CROSS OF LEAD, then I urge you to stop reading this review of the second book (in what will hopefully become a CRISPIN trilogy), and immediately buy, borrow, or steal a copy of the first book.
And if you have already read CRISPIN: THE CROSS OF LEAD, you are in for a wonderful surprise: the second CRISPIN book is even more powerful and moving than the first.
In fact, Avi could have chosen to write a safe and forgettable sequel to his 2003 Newbery Medal-winner, CRISPIN: THE CROSS OF LEAD. Regardless of such a sequel's significance, or lack thereof, school and public librarians everywhere would add to their collections an author's follow-up to a Newbery Medal-winning tale.
But rather than taking that path of least resistance, Avi has, instead, crafted a breathtaking and oft-brutal medieval adventure story that is underlain with some subtle-yet-biting satire. The result is a sequel that could well stand on its own as the most exciting and thought-provoking book of Avi's long and celebrated career.
"It was a June morning when Bear and I passed beyond Great Wexly's walls and left the crowded and treacherous city behind. The June sun was warm, the sky above as blue as my Blessed Lady's spotless robe; our triumphant sense of liberty kept me giddy with joy. Hardly able to contain myself, I more than once cried out, 'My name is Crispin!' for all the world to hear."
With a seamless transition from the first book, CRISPIN: AT THE EDGE OF THE WORLD picks up the harrowing adventures of Crispin and Bear exactly where and when the first book left off. It is still 1377, amidst the era of the Hundred Years War, and the pair are trying to leave Great Wexly behind. At the conclusion of the first book, Crispin has completed the deal with the evil John Aycliffe in which Crispin agrees to leave town and forgo any claim to his newly-found heritage as Lord Furnival's son in exchange for Aycliffe's ordering Bear released from prison. Bear, who had been incarcerated as a suspected member of John Ball's secret brotherhood (a group which seeks to win personal liberties for the people), is finally free but greatly weakened from his time in prison followed by the violent finale with the double-crossing Aycliffe.
Further ill-fortune awaits the pair at the onset of the second book. A number of other brotherhood members have just been inexplicably arrested and, so, when a brotherhood member recognizes Bear, realizes he is no longer in prison, and wrongly concludes that the bearded giant of a man has provided the authorities with names in exchange for saving his own skin, he seriously wounds the fleeing Bear and causes initiation of the manhunt (Bearhunt?) that will cast a long shadow over the duo throughout the second book.
And then there were three:
It is as a result of the pair's crossing paths in the middle of the forest with the wise woman, herbalist, and midwife, Aude, a woman who is severely persecuted for her pagan beliefs, that Crispin and Bear are eventually joined in their flight to evade the brotherhood by Aude's young apprentice, a girl with a cleft palate called Toth. It is this trio who evolve into a family and who then proceed to face the terror and insanity, provided in turn by both nature and by man, that sends the story spinning across Britain and out into stormy seas.
" 'Tell us of the attack,' Bear said to this man as he poled us across.
" 'It was a sweet, cloudless day when they came,' was the reply. 'They came by sea, at dawn, swooping in, killing almost seventy. Four men were taken away for ransom. Looting was rampant. Many houses were burned. They burnt our church, stealing everything they could, even taking the bells.' He paused in his poling to lift a fist in anger. 'May God strike them down, hard!' He marked his words with a shove upon his pole, punctuating them by spitting into the water.
" 'And they claim Saint Dennis as their protector, he who is a defense against strife. May Jesus blast them all.'
" 'Was there no resistance?' asked Bear.
" 'We did resist. Fiercely. But were ill-prepared. Those who failed in their responsibility have paid the penalty.'
" 'How so?' asked Bear.
" 'Execution,' said the man. 'God rot them.' He spat into the water.
" 'That,' suggested Bear, 'will surely make them better prepared next time.' "
Once again, as with the first book, I am totally entangled in Avi's medieval world and cannot wait for another installment to be written and published.
on September 5, 2006
This is a sequel to Avi's Crispin: The Cross of Lead. This series is set in the year 1377, during a period of political and social crisis in England. The protagonist is Crispin, a poor orphan. Crispin grew up in a small village, but had to flee due to persecution from the local steward. In the first book he threw in his lot with Bear, a traveling entertainer and father figure.
The second book, Crispin: At the Edge of the World, begins where the first book left off, with Crispin and Bear jubilantly making their way out of the city of Great Wexly, and into the world. Their happiness is short-lived, however, as they are soon attacked by a man who believes that Bear has betrayed a secret brotherhood. Bear is gravely injured.
With Bear wounded and unable to take his customary charge of the situation, Crispin has to grow up quickly. The two are taken in by a elderly healer woman named Aude and her adopted daughter, Troth. Aude and Troth are not Christian, which is very difficult for Crispin to understand and accept at first. He also has trouble adjusting to Troth's cleft palate (which caused her birth parents to abandon her, and which was generally considered to be a mark of the Devil at the time). Eventually, however, Aude and Troth's kindness breaks through his barriers, and Crispin's worldview expands to accept them.
Through continuing bad luck, Troth, Crispin, and Bear end up back on the road together, an unconventional but loyal family. They remain on the run from the angry brotherhood that attacked Bear, and from Crispin's enemies, and they seek refuge by the sea. The mere existence of the sea is remarkable to Crispin and Troth, who had both previously led very sheltered lives. Here's the conversation in which Crispin first learns about the sea:
"The sea, Crispin, is water--also called ocean--which covers the world in greater magnitude than land."
"You mock me," I said, scoffing at such an absurdity.
This book struck me as more poetic in its writing than the first in the series, perhaps reflecting the increasing sophistication of the narrator, Crispin. Here are a couple of examples:
"Shards of colored glass lay about on the ground--as if a rainbow had fallen from the sky and shattered"; and
"Oh, dear, great Bear in ragged tunic, whose soul fairly burst with the sheer joy of living, a breathing blessing to all who saw him ..."
Overall, I think that this book is that rare second book of a trilogy that is better than its predecessor. Crispin's character continues to mature and evolve, and his friendship with Troth is engaging and realistic. The adventures that befall the small family contain a nice balance of exciting action and realistic historical detail. We learn more about Bear's past, and the experiences that have made him the way that he is. Avi's writing is spare and concise, yet also lyrical. This is the kind of book that I'll think about long after I've finished reading it. I look forward to the concluding book in the series.
This book review was originally published on my blog, Jen Robinson's Book Page, on September 5, 2006.
on January 10, 2007
Crispen at the Edge of the World is one of those books you will always remember. Though it is not as well written as the first book, Crispen and the Cross of Lead, it raised many valuble points. Crispen, the main character of this book,shows one of these points by finding that things aren't always what they seem.This brave character has to struggle to fight the ignorance that is within him. Crispen longs to become a man to save his beloved fatherlike figure Bear from his past, but realizes that he must be himself.
Bear is the father so many wish to have. He is a strong titanic man, that has a big heart to match his large figure. At one time he protected Crispen, but when terribly wounded by an arrow from the past, more and more he finds that Crispen will have to protect him. Though weak, Bear danses his jig through small villages making everone around him laugh in merriment. With Crispen, the son he always wanted, and Troth, the daughter that helped save his life, Bear will learn the values of family, and the joy and pain that comes along with it.
My favorite character in this book goes by the name of Troth. She is a brave, heart warming girl that only found love in her deceased motherlike figure Aude until Crispen and Bear came along. Troth has a beautiful heart and a not so beautiful face. She was born with a disfigured mouth that people call the "Devil's Mark." This big eyed girl lived in fear of peoples judgment but found love in her new family with Crispen and Bear.
Now Crispen Troth and Bear must run from their past, but is that all the danger they face? No. Running to the edge of the world holds many more dangers than that! This odd threesome must find a way to survive storms at sea, battles, and death. But the one thing that they all face is the judgement of others, which can be the most dangerous peril of all.
Through pain, family, and religion Crispen's story is told, teaching anyone who reads this medival masterpiece a lesson about life, and the strength it takes to get through it.
on August 25, 2006
Noted children's author Avi spins a fine yarn in this captivating sequel to his Newbery Medal-winning "Crispin: The Cross of Lead." From a nameless youth who had never left the boundaries of his tiny village, Crispin is forced to grow up fast when his mother dies and he is falsely accused of crimes. On the run and desperate, he links up with a kindly, rough-hewn juggler named Bear who becomes the father he never knew. As Hagrid is to Harry Potter, so Bear is to Crispin as he takes him under his wing. Bear rescues Crispin from many harrowing scrapes until Bear's critical wounding necessitates a role-reversal by his young charge.
Avi's sequel has Crispin and Bear departing the intrigue and treachery of Great Wexly and heading north on rough paths to escape further trouble. Their respite is short-lived. After they rest a while with a midwife and her young apprentice, they flee once again when the midwife is murdered. Enter Troth, the young apprentice, whom they take with them. This marks the beginning of a transition, from Bear to Troth, as well as a rite of passage, from Crispin the dependent to Crispin the man. Bear continues with them, but his strength is waning and his days are numbered.
They reach the coastal town of Rye for another breather, but are forced to escape by boat when Bear's pursuers catch up with them. For both Crispin and Troth, this marks their first time on the ocean and their first time away from England. They wind up in Brittany, France, where their unguided boat runs aground after a fierce storm claims the crew. For Crispin and Troth, this is like going to the edge of the world. The three continue their trek, but they are quickly taken prisoner by marauding soldiers.
"Crispin: At the Edge of the World" is an excellent book that leaves the reader hungry for what is to be the third installment of a trilogy. It is best to read the two "Crispin" books in order, but one can manage by starting with the sequel. The only criticism I have is very minor. At times Avi includes longer words (e.g., "emblazoned with embellishments" in the first book, "exuberance" and "incomprehensibly" in the second) that seem a little out of place for an illiterate peasant boy narrator and a youthful audience. Otherwise, both "Crispin" books are easy to digest, leaving one with a good aftertaste and an appetite for more. Fr. Dennis Mercieri
on February 6, 2007
This was an excellent sequel to the book "Crispin: the Cross of Lead". It kept my interest and moved along from event to event so that I could not put it down. It left me wanting to read the third book in the trilogy.
on May 20, 2015
Much darker that the first book (Crispin: The Cross of Lead). We read it eagerly, having grown so close to the characters. But unlike the first book which had joy, humor and courage, this book was unrelentingly dark. We look forward to the 3rd book and hope to find some hope there!
on December 14, 2011
What I liked most about this book was the characters Avi created: Crispin, Bear, and Toth. And the setting: I love the way Avi brought the 14th century to life, with customs, speech, clothing, food. In many ways reading this book was like living in that time period. Also, I liked the serious subjects (war, religion, community, justice) that Avi wove through the book.
But I did feel that there was something manipulative about the plot: the brotherhood seemed so modern that I was jarred into the present world each time I read about it. This part of the book just seemed sensationalized to me. I do recommend this book, though: definitely worth reading.
on August 18, 2015
Crispin: At the Edge of the World is the second book in Avi's trilogy about his young character, Crispin, and follows directly after the events in Crispin: The Cross of Lead. The first two books in the trilogy (I have not yet read the third) are very engaging, entertaining, and thought-provoking pieces of historical fiction. They are more realistic than many young adult books, and Avi takes care to ensure Crispin is a product of the time the story takes place, and not a person with unrealistically modern ideals. There are themes of religion, tolerance, politics, and coming-of-age, among others, all richly probed without bogging down the plot. If you have not had a chance to read The Cross of Lead, you should do so, and if you have, do not hesitate to read the sequel.
Spoilers below for those who have not read The Cross of Lead.
Even after successfully escaping the hold of John Aycliffe, Crispin and his friend-protector, Bear, are still not in the clear. The two run into trouble when John Ball's Brotherhood, of which Bear was a part, believes Bear betrayed them and they attack, wounding him with an arrow. Crispin and Bear escape and hide, worried the Brotherhood will continue to hunt them down. The arrow wound weakens Bear immensely, but he and Crispin are fortunate to find a medicine woman named Aude with a young girl named Troth.
Crispin, whose isolated Christian upbringing has left him ignorant of other worldviews, distrusts Aude and Troth. Aude, he believes, is a witch, since she worships a God different from Crispin's, and Troth has a cleft lip, which Crispin believes may be the mark of the Devil. However, with Bear delirious from his wound, he realizes they are their only chance of survival. In the time he spends with them, he also begins to grow closer with the young girl, and Troth, in turn, ceases to keep her cleft lip covered, a sign of trust.
Crispin, I mention, is ignorant, with a small worldview, but I don't want readers to think that this is a criticism of his Christian upbringing. Avi offers no criticism to religious views, and in fact Crispin's ignorance is not a criticism at all, but an observation. Access to world news and events is at our fingertips now, with smartphones and social media, but in Crispin's 14th century world, isolation is easy and news hard to come by. Living in an isolated community requires certain prejudices to be developed for a sense of security, and for Crispin to come across a pagan woman is a breach of these secure prejudices. Bear, however, serves as a teacher figure, one who teaches tolerance and empathy, and Crispin is an eager learner. He wants to be a good person, and sometimes being a good person means challenging your own views.
Just like in The Cross of Lead, there is plenty of adventure and some surprising violence (this book has some surprisingly gory violence towards the end). A lot of the conflict revolves around the fact that Bear is aging and his wound keeps him from full strength, meaning Crispin is constantly struggling with the realization he needs to step up in his duties. That said, I like the fact that, unlike other YA fiction, Crispin is not the one who solves all of the problems and he does not always have the best solution. He learns from Bear, and he also attempts to distinguish between when he should heed Bear's commands or disobey them. With its well-developed, engaging characters and plot, and an ending that will be sure to tug at heart-strings, I highly recommend At the Edge of the World. And if you haven't read The Cross of Lead, start there. You won't be disappointed.
on January 18, 2008
"Blessed Saint Giles, it's hard to be a man!"
CRISPIN: AT THE EDGE OF THE WORLD follows sequel on the heels of its predecessor CRISPIN: THE CROSS OF LEAD, winner of the 2003 Newbery Award, New York Times bestseller, and Avi's 50th book. While certainly readable as a standalone novel, the sequel picks up right where the first one left off, without missing a beat.
Set near the death of King Edward and the 100 Years War with France, Crispin and Bear have just escaped the gates of Great Wexly, Britain, the city where they were almost killed. Bear, a red-bearded, hat-jangling juggler and Crispin's makeshift father, has for years served as a spy for John Ball's rebel brotherhood. That life, though, is no more. His cover is blown, his alliances shot to pieces, and he is on the run for his life. Crispin, too, has problems of his own. Formerly hunted as a Wolf's Head, he has discovered his illegitimate sonship to Lord Furnival, a knight of the realm, and relinquished his rights to that sonship just as quickly in hopes of saving Bear's life. Now, they fear their ransomed freedom won't last them long at all.
So they run.
Their flight leads them into the hands of unknowing rebels, the deep forest and strange religious worship, the frightful road to the South and freedom, the harrowing leftovers of war-ravaged cities, the dangers of the open sea, and whatever lies in wait at the edge of the world. Their flight crosses paths with an outcast girl named Troth, who was born with a disfigured face and the reputation that came with it. She has been called evil, cursed, and worse, and longs for the time she won't have to cover her face with her hair. She hopes that Bear's words hold truth, that "Perhaps men who've seen a bigger world have bigger hearts." Crispin's pursuit of manhood, Bear's search for absolution, and Troth's want of acceptance lie firmly at the thematic center of this novel, with the three of them learning what love and family might mean, even in the strangest of circumstances.
CRISPIN: AT THE EDGE OF THE WORLD is an adventurous tale of flight and pursuit of spiritual forgiveness. The story is wholly entertaining, and Avi's wordcraft is again top-notch. With its cinematic and vivid English countryside, from the dark forests to the vast ocean and towering cliffs, this story leaves us hoping that we just might find Avi someday writing another sequel.
--- Reviewed by Jonathan Stephens