Saturday, April 25

Pagan's Daughter - Catherine Jinks

Babylonne is accustomed to her life, such as it is - the motherless bastard child of a priest and a heretic, she's been raised by her aunt and grandmother with Cathar beliefs, key among which is that the world is intrinsically evil and a product of Satan. Anything resulting from copulation (including all animals, eggs, and milk) is tainted, and the only way to salvation is being a Perfect. Fish, fortunately, appear spontaneously in the water or there'd be precious little to eat. As the by-product of rape, by a Roman priest no less, Babylonne is the lowest member of their household. Chastised, punished and essentially in servitude, the last straw comes when Babylonne learns she is to be wed to a senile geriatric mortally afraid of the giant olives that bounce around his bed.
She escapes the only family she's ever known to work for the exiled faidit lords who oppose the current regime. Life there could only be better than the miserable existence that awaits her here. By chance she stumbles upon a priest who she'd previously had a run in with, on his way south. The priest is Isidore, last seen in Pagan's Scribe, who recognises her as Pagan Kidrouk's daughter. In mourning for his beloved master, Isidore
Babylonne is considerably more sheltered for her age than either Pagan or Isidore were, and (perhaps because of this or her gender) less intellectual and contemplative. The dynamic that runs through the rest of the series, or a younger acolyte initially dismissing and eventually revering an older father figure, continues, as do the snarky silent asides that made the first four books such a delight.
The key themes of the series - politics, religion, education, friendship, courage, personal growth, persecution, tolerance - are echoed in Pagan's Daughter but are less strongly present than in its predecessors, and some of the passion is absent.
Rather than a failing, though, I found this difference interesting. There's much more emphasis, particularly at the beginning, on upbringing and family, which I think reflects not only Babylonne's markedly different childhood (both Pagan and Isidore were involved with the Church) but her gender.
As with the rest of the series Jinks creates a strong sense of place, seamlessly imbuing the text with historical detail. The siege and crusade scenes are vivid and distressing, and the real presence religion had in the lives of the people and in the sequence of world events (albeit often as a pretext) is confronting for a secular reader in 21st century Australia.
I didn't warm to Babylonne as much as Pagan, who is the true heart of the quintology, but I appreciated the idea of some continuity after the epilogue of Pagan's Scribe. - Alex

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