Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Last Journey: Crispin-The End of Time by Avi

"If you can go no farther than where you
are, God has shown you your destiny."

In the final book of his trilogy, which began with the Newbery-winning novel The Crispin: Cross of Lead, author Avi takes up the story of the orphaned Crispin as he searches out his fate in medieval France and England. A boy with "no name," "no home, no kin, no place," Crispin finds himself again alone after the death of his fatherly mentor Bear, with only the disfigured girl Troth as a companion and friend. Crispin and Troth know only that they are somewhere in France, unable to speak the language in a land at war with their native land, England. At last, cold and desperately hungry, they ask for help at a small convent. There they are taken in grudgingly until Troth's skills with medicinal plants restores the abbess to health. Troth finds a place as apothecarian there and chooses to stay, but Crispin reluctantly leaves her behind, still following Bear's command to go to Iceland, a land he promised is without kings or lords, a land of freedom.

Crispin knows only to walk toward the north, not knowing where or what Iceland might be, and in the forest he again begs for food from a band of traveling musicians. Because he plays the recorder, Crispin is taken in by the troop, but soon, in a baptism of blood in which he is ordered to strip a dying robbery victim of his purse, he learns the group's true vocation as thieves and fears that he has lost his immortal soul as well as his freedom by his part in the murder. Still, the group claims to be heading for the English-held walled city of Calais to play at a rich merchant's wedding feast and then to find passage on to England, and Crispin remains fearfully with them, hoping to get closer to his final destination. Their servant boy Owen manages to warn him that they are totally untrustworthy and Crispin soon learns that indeed they plan to hand him over for hanging to bribe the city's guards to let them escape to England.

Crispin knows that he must escape and promises to take Owen with him, and in a stolen moment in the marketplace, finds an Icelandic fisherman who needs a hand for the voyage back to his homeland. Watched virtually every moment by the members of the troop, Crispin, now a marked man, must find a way out of the walled and guarded city and onto the small boat before it sails at dawn on the day after the wedding. But, as the grizzled fisherman tells him, Iceland is not the haven that Bear had promised, instead a place of sometime cruelty and unrelenting hardship. Still, Crispin faces only death in his present condition, and he takes some comfort in remembering the words of Bear, that when you can go no farther, God is showing you your true destiny.

Avi is a supreme storyteller, and the conclusion to his trilogy, Crispin: The End of Time (Balzer & Bray, 2010), is a hold-your-breath page-turner of an adventure story. Having developed his characters and fleshed out his theme of personal freedom in the previous two books, including Book 2, Crispin: At the Edge of the World multiple-award-winning author Avi here is free to pursue a thumping-good plot in the best tradition of Rudyard Kipling, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Mark Twain. Although the earlier books are equally deserving, this last book can stand on its own, seamlessly bringing the reader abreast of the current story as a beautifully balanced thriller, a piece of superbly atmospheric historical fiction, and a deep exploration of the series' ethical theme of personal responsibility in the pursuit of individual liberty. As Kirkus Reviews puts it, "Thrilling and beautifully wrought."

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