Sunday, April 5, 2015

Reading Through History: Adam of the Road by Elizabeth Janet Gray (1942)

In 1294, Adam is the son of a traveling minstrel. He is thrilled when he is able to leave school and begin traveling the road with his father, Roger, and dog, Nick. He loves watching Roger entertain the family for whom he works, and Adam enjoys sharpening his own minstrelsy skills along the way. When an opportunistic rival minstrel steals his dog, though, Adam becomes upset, and in the process of looking for the dog, he loses track of his father. Left completely on his own for the first time in his life, Adam must use his talents as a minstrel as well as his wits to survive and figure out how to find Roger once more. 

Despite its age, this book is extremely readable and relatable. Adam and Roger are both instantly lovable characters with memorable personalities. It is easy to empathize with Adam's frustrations at losing his father and it is fascinating to see how he gets by on his own.  Adam's travels on the road show the reader many informative glimpses into how different types of people lived during this time - a ferryman, a priest, thieves, etc. - and the story becomes much more than just a boy's search for his lost pet. The ending is also very well done, and things wrap up nicely, but believably. 

Compared with Catherine, Called Birdy, Adam of the Road is a much more true-to-life example of medieval historical fiction. The author doesn't try to impose any particular agenda onto the story in order to engage or pander to contemporary readers. Rather, she just tells a compelling story and allows historical truths to speak for themselves. This book is also notable among many of the others historical fiction novels I have read because the subject matter is so mundane. Adam is not escaping an unwanted marriage, saving a potter's career, rescuing a man about to be maimed by a tiger, running from Pompeii as it collapses around him, or saving his mother from poverty. He's just looking for his dog, and his dad. And because the author is such a great storyteller, that is enough. 

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