In this second instalment of the ‘Lucca le Pou’ stories, we return to Lucca and his band of misfits almost exactly where we left them – struggling with the aftermath of war, deep in the heart of their beloved city, which is on the brink of collapse.
Turmel once again takes us on a journey – in every sense of the word – as our characters, both old and new, form a diverse community and discover their changing landscape. Growth and adaptation are the two key themes in this second novel, and the reader delights as Lucca transforms into a well-rounded man.
For me, it is always enjoyable when the next novel in a series begins almost exactly where we left off. Of course, there is a sense of mystery to skipping along the chronology, and there are indeed times where a break of a few years (or more) is needed. But in Acre’s Orphan, it works to pick up where the previous book ended. As a reader, I wasn’t left playing catch up or wondering how Lucca progressed further through into manhood. Instead, I was able to read about it first-hand, to witness the decisions that were made by Lucca and his friends in the wake of such a terrible defeat and among such impending dread. There were moments where it was slightly jarring – for example, there were instances where it was explained too literally that Lucca, or someone else, was referring to something that happened in the first book. This mainly happened within the first chapter or so though, and once the creases had been ironed out and we were back in the bustle of Acre once again, everything ran much smoother. Turmel left it to the reader to decide what they did and didn’t remember about what had happened, reminding us of vital information in a much more subtle way, and in a tone that fit the characters.
As mentioned, this book is all about the journey. In fact, the majority of the novel concerns the physical journey that the group take from Acre to Tyre, leaving the dirt and chaos of the city behind (comforts for Lucca) and immersing themselves in the outdoors. For the first time Lucca explores outside the walls of Acre. He tastes the fresh air, takes shelter beneath trees, and picks fruit from the trees themselves. While he is aware that his mission is an important one, Turmel manages to make him act like a young man too. He is frightened, curious and gleeful at the little things. Most importantly though, we start to see him think more about other people and their needs. While the Lucca before is not necessarily a ‘nasty’ person, he can be accused of being slightly naïve and – as children often are – self-centred. In this second novel, the reader is gradually presented with this new, dignified Lucca, without losing the personality traits which we have come to know and love.
Lucca also realises his own strength, as some confrontational scenes in the book show us. However, this isn’t always in the physical sense – he is after all still a small child – but more in the way of courage. What’s more, it is refreshing that he is seemingly learning this confidence from a female counterpart, someone who he is initially wary off – a spirited young girl who goes by the name of Nahida. Nahida has an incredibly tough exterior, and it’s fair to say that she knows her own goals. She intrigues Lucca, who has perhaps never seen this in a woman before, especially not one close to his own age.
There is something deeper to Nahida though, as Lucca and the reader soon learn. She is emotional, kind, eager to learn and be part of a community despite her hardened shell. In fact, many of the female characters in this second novel are presented as more complex, which I really enjoyed. In historical fiction in particular, it is often easy to dismiss or belittle the presence of women, as their factual impact is not widely documented. It is refreshing that Turmel did not fall victim to this, and included strong, caring women at the forefront of his novel. While the Sister is an important character in the first book, she doesn’t really venture beyond the role of empathetic caregiver. In this book however, her resilience is shown. Lucca is more reliant on her, but not in a way that is shown to jeopardise his manhood. Sure, she’s still ultimately that caregiver, but by the end of the novel she is a well-rounded motherly figure, and the depth of personality is something that stays with the reader.
This is a time and place that Turmel has obviously researched well, and like his first novel, Acre’s Orphan is an enjoyable read. The pacing was perfect, and I liked that even though they are surrounded by such turmoil, Turmel took the time to take the reader through each little step – nothing felt rushed or overlooked, and we were once again back in the curious environment that was the Crusader Kingdom.
Acre’s Orphan is available here.
Acre’s Bastard review can be found here.
Reviewed by Mariah Feria
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