The Heathens and the Dragon by Kate A. Boorman

Elodie is an orphan, a servant to her kindly master and the caretaker of her much younger brother. Elodie is also a pagan, taught by the beloved mother she recently lost, living in a world that is unkind to those who do not follow the Catholic church’s teachings. When her Cathar master flees the Crusaders sent to arrest him, 12-year-old Elodie gathers her brother Bertran and his pet chicken, Codet, and sets off on an adventure to find their master, determined to return his stash of gold coins. Penniless (other than the useless gold coins) and soon lost, Elodie and Bertran find protection and guidance in the person of a young woman troubadour, Joie, who has secrets of her own. Their only coin to earn food and lodging as they negotiate the trail of her master is a treasured and secret story Elodie’s mother shared with her daughter.

The Heathens and the Dragon by Kate A. Boorman, is my first middle-grade story in a very long time. I was attracted to the beautifully illustrated cover and the setting of 12th-century Occitanie, the southern French region of the Cathars, a Gnostic sect persecuted and eventually extinguished by the Catholic church. Aimed at 8- to 12-year-olds, this book softens but does not hide the atrocities committed against Cathars, and in fact, might be a bit intense for some sensitive children. The kind master’s fate is left uncertain but likely perilous, hinting he might burn at the stake. However, it is balanced by a sweet story of friendship, family – in all its many forms – and love. The Catholic church is the bad guy here, although a kindly priest shows a glimmer of good in that organization. And, of course, all the secrets are revealed in the end; both Elodie and Joie find the courage to be their true selves. Bertran and Codet bring a delightful, bright thread of humour in the darkness, as does the errand “boy”/street urchin, Giso.

Boorman has re-created a moment in history that is not often a theme in children’s books, but she welcomes children into it, trusting them with the courage to face the evil Elodie must, and offering them hope that big obstacles can be surmounted with the help of friends. It holds a lesson in resilience and forgiveness.

Kate A Boorman is an author from Edmonton, Alberta, with roots in the small town of Rimbey, Alberta. Her books have been published in four world territories and have appeared on a variety of Best Of lists, from Seventeen to O! The Oprah Magazine. The first book in her acclaimed, Winterkill trilogy won the Alberta Writers’ Guild Award for Children’s Fiction. Her latest YA, Into the Sublime, was a Junior Library Guild Gold Standard Selection. The Heathens and the Dragon is Kate’s middle-grade debut. When she is not writing, she is wrangling her family and dreaming up travel to faraway lands.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Thistledown Press (Sept. 5 2023)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 300 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1771872470
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1771872478