Six years of extensive research and a natural storyteller's gift shine in this spiffily spun novel that begins on a dark night in 1242 when travelers meet at the Holy Cross-Roads Inn ("a day's walk north of Paris"). They exchange stories of three "magical children"--enemies of King Louis IX--whose fates intertwine: Jeanne the visionary peasant girl with her mysteriously resurrected greyhound named Gwenforte; William the giant, an impossibly strong Benedictine monk with North African roots; and Jacob, the gentle Jewish healer of mortal wounds. A beer maker begins the festivities with "The Brewster's Tale," entertaining an ale-drinking, occasionally interrupting audience of "[b]utchers and brewers, peasants and priests, knights and nobodies." When her account tapers off, a nun picks it back up, and this is how Gidwitz's splendidly meandering bit of storytelling takes shape. Morsel by morsel, readers learn about each of the three miracle-working children and how they transcend their initial preconceptions about each other to become true friends.
Over-the-top skirmishes, comical triumphs over thugs, unlikely allies, religious persecution, stinky French cheese (tastes like feet and "life"), noble acts of bravery, deep-seated emotion, profound theological questions--and a fatally flatulent dragon--intermingle in this suspenseful novel set in a medieval world where atrocities are committed in the name of God. In the style of "illuminated" medieval texts, Egyptian-born illustrator Hatem Aly illuminates Gidwitz's story with whimsical black-and-white drawings that enliven this philosophical swashbuckler. --Karin Snelson, children's & YA editor, Shelf Awareness