Reviewed by Andrew Reynolds.
The subtitle to Wayne Turmel's Acre's Bastard is “Part 1 of the Lucca le Puc stories,” and I am already looking forward to further stories from this author about his engaging main character. Lucca is a literal bastard, an orphan living in the orphanage run the Order of the Hospital and St. John in Acre. The product of uncertain parentage, he lives during the chaos and violence of the Crusades, and as the story progresses, things go from bad to much, much worse.
The story opens with Lucca doing something consistent with his long history of getting into trouble. In this case, though, Lucca's antics bring him to the attention of a newly arrived member of the Hospitalier Order. The member’s attempt to punish Lucca takes a turn familiar to those following modern Catholic problems, and Lucca defends himself rather than submit. He chooses to flee the only home he has known rather than risk the repercussions of that resistance. Lucca fears he will be pursued for what he has done and what he knows of his assailant, but he finds refuge with a mysterious beggar.
Lucca soon learns that his benefactor, Marco, is a brother of the Order of St. Lazarus and far more than just a dirty street beggar. Marco is in fact a knight in that Order, and having been forced to give up the sword by leprosy, he now fights with his wits as a spy. He inducts Lucca into his world, a world the boy soon proves surprisingly adept at navigating.
The story follows Lucca as he journeys from the streets of Acre, which he describes as the most sinful city in the world, to the deserts of what is now Israel. We see him move from playing pranks to witnessing one of the most pivotal battles of the Crusades. Along the way, we meet characters, from Lucca's band of friends to the lepers inhabiting the hospital run by the Order of Lazarus, and even these supporting characters have none of the cardboard cut-out feel of many adventures. They have the feel of people we might have chanced to meet if we were transported to those hectic times. Through it all, the story carries the reader along and keeps him wondering what will come next and how Lucca will survive it all.
In his postscript, Mr. Turmel speaks of being inspired by adventures he read while growing up, novels like Treasure Island and The Three Musketeers. He has taken those earlier stories to heart, and in this novel has wrought a work that stands on an equal footing with them. Acre's Bastard is technically classified as Young Adult literature, but I think most adults will find it more than engaging enough to make it a worthy read.