The Inquisitor's Tale: Or, the Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog

Book review by
Mary Eisenhart, Common Sense Media
The Inquisitor's Tale: Or, the Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog Book Poster Image
Poignant, funny medieval tale skewers ignorance, bigotry.

Parents say

age 10+
Based on 1 review

Kids say

age 10+
Based on 6 reviews

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The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Rarely has a work of fiction brought the complexities of a bygone era to such vivid (and -- despite the occasional, "Are you OK?" -- historically correct) life with such success as The Inquisitor's Tale. As the title characters wend their way through many dangers, vivid scenes -- sometimes funny, sometimes scary, sometimes bitterly ironic -- give the reader a personal sense of day-to-day life in 1242 France: the Inquisition and other persecutions of "heretics" and "infidels"; the building of cities and cathedrals; the life of the monasteries; the birth of the university; and a whole lot of ignorance and superstition. Author Adam Gidwitz, whose wife is a scholar of the Middle Ages, spent six years researching this tale, and it shows. He loads the narrative with offhand literary and historical references and vignettes that may prompt further research by readers.  An extensive bibliography and a ist of suggested reading for both children and adult readers stands ready to assist at the end.

Positive Messages

Strong messages in favor of study, thinking, considering different points of view, as well as love, courage, friendship, and bonds that stay strong in good times or bad.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Besides being engaging as all get-out, the kids are complex and believable. They're also full of surprises as they join forces to fulfill their mission and reach their destination, all while performing miraculous feats of kindness and dodging religious zealots who want to kill them. Adult characters are complicated and include Jeanne's parents, torn between love for their daughter and superstitious terror of her power, to King Louis IX of France, a pious, humble fellow who's surprisingly fun to hang out with -- and on a fanatical quest to burn every Talmud in the land. Apparently good characters often turn out to have deadly intentions, while some evil-seeming ones reveal unexpected qualities at critical moments.


The kids are under constant threat of death throughout the story. Meanwhile, terrible things happen to other people: A Jewish village is torched and its residents killed by drunken Christian louts; an old woman is dragged off to be burned at the stake, and another character burns to death atop a pyre of books he's trying to save; quicksand swallows up knights and horses. The gruesome martyrdoms of Christian saints are described. William kills a band of fiends in gory hand-to-hand combat and removes a donkey's leg to use as a weapon (the donkey is unharmed and the leg restored afterward). Some knights' robberies and murders of travelers comes back to haunt them.


The kids hold hands for mutual support in scary moments. William, the illegitimate child of a French lord and his Saracen lover, suspects his father has about a hundred sons like him.


Occasional "damn," as in "damned dog," and such medieval oaths as "Jesus's boots!" One episode where the kids' miraculous powers come into play involves a dragon whose deadly farts ravage the countryside. On a couple occasions William, who's grown up in an aristocratic, Bible-steeped monastery, refers to his donkey as an ass, which the other two kids think is hilarious, and plays on the double meaning ensue. Frequent references to dung heaps, privies, pee, and poop; many humorous. Also butts and derrieres.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

A lot of ale served and consumed at the inn. Characters of all ages drink ale (there's a "weak" version for kids, but many drink the strong stuff) and wine. Some adult characters are sometimes drunk.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Inquisitor's Tale, by Adam Gidwitz (A Tale Dark and Grimm), won a 2017 Newbery Honor. Gidwitz spent years researching the underlying medieval history of this a brilliant, funny, poignant celebration of love, learning, and the love of learning. Lots of terrible things happen: Villages are torched, parents murdered, people burned to death, knights and horses swallowed by quicksand, and three innocent tweens are in constant danger of death from the forces of authority. Then there's the book-burning by France's King Louis IX, who may have been a saint but was also quite the anti-Semite. And the Holy Dog, venerated after her unjust killing when she saved a baby from a snake, is now mysteriously returned from the dead. It's a lot to take in, but Gidwitz is a masterful storyteller who tugs at your heartstrings, tickles your funny bone, and teaches you something new on practically every page.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byAliGMom March 18, 2020

Enjoyable but misleading read

This book is nicely written and enjoyable to read. However, the interesting story and endearing characters are inextricable from a pointed agenda and ideologica... Continue reading
Teen, 14 years old Written byPoppy From The ... April 24, 2021

Pretty good

It’s well written, the story is engaging, the characters are enjoyable, and the friendship between the inquisitor and the kids is pretty cute. It does have a bi... Continue reading
Kid, 10 years old July 11, 2020

Good Book, But Features A Lot of Religon.

I finished this book in just three days, that's how good it is! I find that this book has good educational value due to the fact that it teaches you a... Continue reading

What's the story?

As THE INQUISITOR'S TALE begins, it's 1242, and the Inquisition, supported by King Louis IX of France, is hard at work persecuting heretics, infidels, and pretty much anybody who looks or acts unusual. In the countryside, one of the inquisitors is hot on the trail of three kids who are definitely unusual. Eleven-year-old huge and dark-skinned William, son of a French lord and his North African lover, is a young monk with unusual strength. Peasant girl Jeanne, probably a bit younger, sees the future when she has seizures. Jacob, a Jewish boy about the same age, is able to miraculously cure injuries and illness with herbs and prayer. Then there's Gwenforte the greyhound, unjustly killed after saving baby Jeanne from a snake, revered by the peasants, and mysteriously returned from the dead. As travelers gather in a wayside inn, they take turns telling the kids' story -- which is about to get even more dramatic.

Is it any good?

Master storyteller Adam Gidwitz outdoes himself in this poignant, funny story of three tweens and a saintly greyhound, all with unusual powers, trying to avoid their persecutors in medieval France. The characters in The Inquisitor's Tale are irresistible. Their adventures and the people they meet bring thrills and thought-provoking questions. In the tradition of medieval manuscripts, illustrator Hatem Aly's page embellishments provide a running commentary on the events in the text.

Offering much insight into daily life and burning issues during one of Europe's most complex, exciting periods, The Inquisitor's Tale is a real gem -- and one adults as well as kids won't want to miss.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the Inquisition and the whole idea of persecuting people for their religious beliefs, as shown in The Inquisitor's Tale. Why do you think this happened back in the Middle Ages? Do you think it still happens today? If so, what might be some examples?

  • The Inquisitor's Tale features a storytelling style that was popular in the Middle Ages, one where travelers from all walks of life come together and tell their tales. Do you know any other examples of this genre?

  • Do these characters and their adventures make you want to learn more about the people and events in the Middle Ages? What do you think you'd like to investigate further? Do you think the books listed at the end of The Inquisitor's Tale might help?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love stories about history and magic

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