Troubadour by Mary Hoffman

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Troubadour by Mary Hoffman

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Category: Teens
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Ruth Price
Reviewed by Ruth Price
Summary: This unusual teen historical novel has likeable and believable central characters and plenty of pace. Its ambitious setting during the Albigensian Crusade in 13th century France demands a lot from its readership, but it will appeal to thoughtful teens with a love of history.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 304 Date: August 2009
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC
ISBN: 978-0747592518

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In Troubadour, 13-year-old noblewoman, Elinor de Sévignan, flees from her parents' choice of suitor by posing as a boy singer with a group of travelling minstrels in 13th century Southern France. As her transition from her pampered but restricted existence to roaming troubadour takes place on the roads of Provence, so begins the Albigensian Crusade. Forces from Northern France attempt to crush the Cathars, whose religious beliefs are seen as heretical, making their lands and wealth fair game for both fanatical followers of the Pope, and opportunistic mercenaries.

Mary Hoffman is to be congratulated for tackling this challenging period and bringing it to life for confident readers, teens and adults alike. Troubadour is a novel on an epic scale, juggling the Albigensian Crusade and its background, bloody battles and reprisals, aspects of courtly love, troubadours and Cathars, the feudal system along with Elinor's search for her place in the world. Elinor is a lively and engaging heroine, but Hoffman skilfully avoids making her an anachronistic, feisty miss, more suited to teen chicklit. Without giving away too much of the plot, Elinor does find her place in life, but not with the handsome, enigmatic troubadour and Cathar, Bertran, with whom she is initially besotted. Her four-year journey to maturity as a young 13th century noblewoman is convincingly realised, and her life in a minstrel group and later as a troubairitz, a female troubadour and poet, make for compelling reading.

The vastness of Hoffman's canvas at times means certain characters are under-realised; for readers eager to follow Elinor's adventures, the sections on some of the real historical characters can drag in comparison, and the complexity of the underlying historical period would be challenging for many UK children – who rarely study medieval history outside the public school system, sadly – and this is even more arcane French medieval history. Troubadour contains a useful glossary of Occitan and medieval words, a historical note on the period, along with brief biographies of a few of the real historical characters featured.

Hoffman's prose is workmanlike. However, her central characters are so lively, and events take place at such a cracking pace, that her occasional lack of style doesn't get in the way of the plot, and the vocabulary is pitched nicely for Y6-9 while being entirely appropriate for adults. Principally, Hoffman's love of history shines through, and who needs lyricism when you have bastides and mangonels and frumenty?

Thanks to the nice people at Bloomsbury for sending Troubadour to Bookbag. For the right teen, Troubadour has much to offer, and it's also an enjoyable read for adults with an interest in medieval history.

For further reading in a similar vein, you could not do better than Gatty's Tale by Kevin Crossley-Holland. Like Troubadour, it features both a 13th century setting and a memorable teen heroine. It comes highly recommended by Bookbag's reviewer.

Buy Troubadour by Mary Hoffman at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Troubadour by Mary Hoffman at

Buy Troubadour by Mary Hoffman at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Troubadour by Mary Hoffman at


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