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Book Review

The Inquisitor’s Tale by Adam Gidwitz has been reviewed by Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements


Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

The year is 1242, and King Louis of France is about to wage war. The Inquisitor, who narrates the overall story, explains that three unknown children and a dog have suddenly become enemies of the kingdom and the subject of everyone’s interest. He visits the Holy Cross-Roads Inn near Paris to get the whole story. In a novel reminiscent of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, the Inquisitor sits in the pub and solicits stories from butchers and brewers, peasants and priests and others.

Patrons of the Holy Cross-Roads Inn take turns telling the parts of the story they know. They talk about a peasant girl named Jeanne who sometimes has strange fits. Jeanne’s parents mistakenly killed the family’s greyhound, Gwenforte, when Jeanne was a baby. Recently, a nun tells the Inquisitor, Jeanne had a fit, and Gwenforte appeared, alive.

Knights search for Jeanne, thinking she has used witchcraft to resurrect the dog. Jeanne remembers the time a huge monk known as Michelangelo di Bologna took a woman suspected of witchcraft from the village. She’s sure this monk is leading the charge against her as well. Jeanne and Gwenforte run away from home.

A monastery librarian tells about a young monk named William. He is unusually tall and dark, the illegitimate son of a wealthy lord and an African woman. Intelligent and faithful, William becomes frustrated when a teacher named Brother Bartholomew rants about the poor, Jews, Muslims, women and other races being the Devil’s foot soldiers. William picks up a solid stone bench, and it explodes into pieces.

Brother Bartholomew transfers William to another monastery and asks him to deliver some books there. William learns his route will take him through the dangerous forest of the Foul Fiends. He knows his monastic vows don’t permit him to use any weapon other than flesh and bone, even in self-defense. William manages to trick the army of Fiends and even rips off a donkey’s leg to use as a weapon against them.

In the Butcher’s tale, the Inquisitor learns about a Jewish boy named Jacob. After Christian boys set his village on fire, Jacob recites a sacred Jewish prayer and miraculously saves a man’s life.

The Innkeeper reveals that all three children were recently at his inn. William came on his own and was allowed to sleep in the barn. Jeanne was being led on a rope by knights. The knights caught Jacob sneaking around near the inn. Thinking he was a thief, one prepared to kill him. Jeanne screamed, awakening William. Jacob prayed another miraculous prayer while Jeanne secretly bound the knight. While Gwenforte bit the knight, William helped the other two kids. They all escaped into the woods.

At first, when the children find themselves alone together, they are afraid and skeptical of one another. They begin to share their stories and realize they all have unique powers. They decide the best way to avoid being tried for witchcraft is to appeal to Michelangelo’s master, Abbot Hubert, at the monastery at Saint-Denis.

Jacob and Jeanne go into a town for directions, leaving the conspicuous William waiting in the forest. Knights capture Jacob and Jeanne. They learn these knights are working for a wealthy lord. On their way to his home, Jeanne has a vision about a dragon. The knights have heard about a dragon who kills people just by passing gas. Jeanne tells the lord and knights she and Jacob can cure the dragon.

The kids make the dragon sick to its stomach, and it vomits up cheese that had caused the gas. Jacob heals one of the knights when he is hit by the dragon’s fire. The knights and lord are convinced the children are saints and want to help them get to Saint-Denis. At a banquet of celebration, William appears to rescue his friends. Jeanne and Jacob stop him from hurting their new allies just in time.

The kids travel on to the Saint-Denis, where they dodge Michelangelo to meet with his master. They learn the master is the real enemy when Michelangelo saves them from him. He takes them to the home of a famous rabbi named Yehuda. The rabbi and Michelangelo hold very different views about God and faith but are best friends.

Michelangelo tells the children that Talmuds, the sacred Jewish text, are being collected for a book burning in Paris. He urges them to go with him and prevent the burning. The kids agree. William and Jeanne grow increasingly more tolerant of Jacob’s faith and begin to believe God doesn’t care what faith someone professes.

The kids inadvertently meet King Louis in a monastery. He has heard of them and takes them to his palace. He’s a kind man, and they all become friends. The kids grow concerned, however, when he starts to speak of his hate for his Jewish subjects. He still treats them with decency, but he believes their ways are evil.

The children and Michelangelo wonder what will happen if the king discovers Jacob is Jewish or if he learns of their plot to stop the Talmud burnings. The group is ultimately unsuccessful at stopping the burnings, and Michelangelo’s body burns up in the flames after a skirmish. The distraught children discover one of the books William was carrying from his first monastery is a Talmud, maybe the only one left in France now. They must get it to a monastery Michelangelo mentioned.

As they make the treacherous journey, the king, his hateful mother and many knights follow after them. Most of the knights are sucked into quicksand or drowned. The king’s mother almost drowns, but the kids save her life. King Louis agrees to let them go, as they have been his friends and are clearly led by God. He tells them not to let anyone know he permitted them to keep a Talmud.

The kids find Michelangelo at the monastery and learn he is actually the Archangel Michael. They wonder aloud why God has put them through this. Michelangelo talks about the Lord’s mysterious ways and encourages them to keep witnessing for God. The Inquisitor, who has been with the children on the last leg of this journey, vows to stay with the kids. He will continue to chronicle their activities so the rest of their story can be preserved and shared.

Christian Beliefs

William is a Catholic monk. He remains faithful to his monastic vows not to use weapons, even when faced with mortal danger. He often prays and asks God for strength. He also prays for the souls of the Foul Fiends he kills in the woods. He argues with the rantings of Brother Bartholomew, who believes all people of different races, genders and social classes are the Devil’s foot soldiers.

William notes that Jesus was poor and Jewish, and that all people can teach the Bible or be disciples of Christ. When Brother Bartholomew sends William away, the monastery librarian warns the boy about the Foul Fiends. They are men and women who escaped into the woods to live in wickedness. But, he reminds William, no one can escape the sight of God. William sometimes feels awkward about his size and race. He wonders why God didn’t make humans more alike and uniform, like crows.

Jeanne also comes from a Catholic background and says prayers. Like William and Jacob, she credits God for her miracles. The children are ready to fight, and even die, for what they believe God wants them to do. Jeanne has a vision of Christ on the Cross that helps King Louis find an important lost relic. Jeanne is uncomfortable when the others ask her to fake one of her fits. She doesn’t want to pretend God is speaking to her when He isn’t. The Inquisitor wonders how loving one’s crooked neighbor is like loving a perfect, almighty God. Jeanne replies that it seems like the same thing to her.

Michelangelo tells the kids that they are special because they clearly hear God’s voice and act upon his instruction. He turns out to be an archangel. He says the word martyr really means “witness.” He says the children already have been witnesses, and they will continue to witness on behalf of God’s goodness, beauty and justice.

King Louis is known to love God and his subjects. Louis says the Talmud contains new laws, not laws from God. He says they are used by rabbis to lead Jews away from God’s Word.

When the kids wonder why God has let bad things happen to them, a drunk friar offers a profound reply. Which of us was there when God created the world, he asks, so which of us can know God’s true plans? He says all we can do is learn about God and to try understand a little. Another man sings a song about God. He says God is a troubadour, and people are the characters in His songs. The man contends that the things that have happened to the kids aren’t beautiful, but their song still could be.

The Inquisitor and others frequently debate whether the children’s miracles are enough to make them actual saints. Characters cross themselves when they believe they’ve seen a miracle. They take various happenings as signs from God. A knight tells Jeanne that practicing magic is a sin against God.

Other Belief Systems

People are sometimes burned at the stake for witchcraft; Jeanne fears this will happen to her if her fits and miracles are discovered. Abbot Hubert admits he explored the black arts and learned spells and sacrifices.

Brother Bartholomew hates children and often tells them they are closest to the state of original sin. He teaches that all peasants, Jews, Muslims, women and people of races other than his own are in league with Satan. The Jongleur says he has to know people so he'll know the kind of jokes they like and which god they make fun of.

Jacob is Jewish, so he sometimes references the Torah. He heals people by reciting the Shema, the Jews’ holiest prayer. He prays as he and Jeanne are about to be hanged. When knights question him about his beliefs, they ask if he prays to Jesus or says the Creed. Jacob says he doesn’t believe in Jesus, but he believes in God. A knight calls him a filthy heathen and replies that Jesus is God.

William and Jeanne eventually stop thinking they should try to convert Jacob to Christianity. They believe it would be insane to think God wouldn’t save Jacob’s soul, too. The kids pray together, deciding it doesn’t matter whether they say a Jewish prayer or a Christian one.

A man at the inn asks why God has forsaken them when he hears about the burning of the Talmuds. The king hates Jews but still treats them humanely, saying they are wicked and wayward children. In the end, he allows the kids to keep a copy of the Talmud so it can be recopied and redistributed. He and other knights bow before the kids and ask for the blessing of the “holy” children. He says God has always worked miracles in unexpected ways.

Michelangelo says one of the reasons God allowed all of this to happen to the kids was to save the Talmuds. Michelangelo calls Yehuda a satan, saying in Hebrew that just means an advocate of an alternative side or point of view. Michelangelo says there are Jewish saints, Muslim saints and saints in lands where they worship God in many different ways. Michelangelo and the boys convince Jeanne that God is using a sick feeling in her chest to tell her He hates the burning of the Talmuds. Michelangelo says that the voice of God tells us what to love and what to hate.

Authority Roles

Michelangelo turns out not only to be an ally, but an archangel. He encourages the kids to help save copies of the Talmud and accept that there are saints from many different religious backgrounds. King Louis initially says he hates Jews. Because he likes the children and believes they hear from God, he eventually helps them save a copy of the Talmud. His caustic mother epitomizes closed-minded Christianity in her desire to ensure all Talmuds are destroyed. Once the knights see the children’s miracles, they bow before them and aid them in their challenges.


The Lord’s name is used in vain a number of times. Crap, d--n, h--- and b--tard also appear. A number of a-- jokes appear, as this is what William calls his donkey. Since Williams’ vows are sacred to him, he keeps his promise not to fight with weapons other than flesh and bone. He rips off a donkey’s leg and uses it as a weapon. He bashes the fiends’ heads together, knocks them out and throws one man around, using him as a weapon against the others.

Skulls cave in, heads come off and organs come out in this bloody scene. William does miraculously place the donkey’s leg back on its body, and the donkey is fine. Michelangelo’s body lies at a gruesome angle as it is burning.


King Louis’s servant always compliments the king with effusive remarks. The kids believe he is half in love with the king.

Discussion Topics

Get free discussion questions for this book and others, at FocusOnTheFamily.com/discuss-books.

Additional Comments/Notes

Bathroom humor: A dragon expels poisonous farts until the kids cure him. The dragon throws up long yellow trails of vomit. William repeatedly refers to his donkey as his a--, which amuses the other kids.

Historical note: Since this is pre-Reformation, all of what’s called Christianity is Catholicism. There are monks and nuns and genuflecting and discussions of sainthood, etc.

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Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. The inclusion of a book's review does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.

Episode Reviews



Readability Age Range

10 and up


Adam Gidwitz, with illustrations by Hatem Aly






Record Label



Dutton Children’s Books, Penguin Young Readers Group, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC


On Video

Year Published



Newbery Honor Book, 2017; ALA Notable Children’s Book, 2017; Publisher’s Weekly Best Book, 2016


We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

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