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Ever since ten-year-old Susan Sinclair became Guardian of the Crystal of the North, she has had the rare ability to transport to various moments in time. Wherever there’s an imbalance in history, it’s her mission to set it right before returning home. Susan’s third adventure lands her in the Holy Roman Empire in the year 1212.
Susan, however, isn’t alone. Her visiting cousin from Australia, Jason, accidentally comes along for the ride. They find themselves in the woods following a trail of straggly children. The kids are part of the children’s crusade, traveling to Cologne, Germany, to join a Crusade to the Holy Land to spread Christianity. Hiding among them is Katerina, a girl forced to flee after hearing of a plot to kill the future emperor, Frederick—who’s also her cousin.
With three dangerous knights hunting Katerina, Susan believes it’s her mission to help her find her grandmother and warn Frederick before the coronation. They disguise Katerina as a boy to fool their foes, but it’s not enough. If Susan can just learn to control her growing crystal powers, she could save not only her new friends but also all of history.
Preteen fantasy fans ages 8-12 years old will relish the third book in the Crystal Journals series even if they don't have prior familiarity with its predecessors, and will readily absorb the medieval setting and story of Susan, who is still coming into the powers bestowed upon her from a crystal she is given, because it's chosen her, at a flea market.Uncertain of how her powers or the crystal works, Susan discovers (in previous books) that she is the Guardian of only one of four crystals, charged with the task of correcting unfairness in the world and helping others. Her timeslip adventures in the prior books are deftly summed up in a preface chapter that neatly and succinctly sets the stage for her medieval encounter in Lady Knight, so newcomers will be up and running quickly as Susan enters medieval Europe with too many candidates for her aid, including a runaway Lady and a group of young peasant children camping in a forest.
Susan really needs to learn more history. She has no idea of how these disparate forces will interact, and it takes a while to learn out medieval history, which may provide clues as to why she is there. The details about the real-world Children's Crusades of the times are neatly woven into this fantasy and successfully bring the era to life.
Popes, kings, crusades, and a daring plan are soon revealed: "He told us what the popes had promised the kings and their knights. Riding to the liberation of Jerusalem was a sacred duty, they said. These heroes, they said, were holy pilgrims and protected by God’s hand. All their sins forgiven, all their afterlives blessed in the wonders of heaven. But they failed, Nicholas told us...Then Nicholas laid out his plan. Innocent children would succeed where the mighty had failed. We would be the holy pilgrims and travel to Jerusalem."
What is Susan's place in this world, which seems to need her so much? As she comes to learn the political struggles in the Holy Roman Empire, the family struggles of rulers, and the fates of stalwart adventurers who sojourn into danger with her, Susan begins to realize that her task is far greater than she'd thought.
G. Rosemary Ludlow does a fine job of entwining the lives and perspectives of a host of characters surrounding Susan, from a royal runaway, Katerina, to Griswald, Jason, Watt, and others. Part of what helps cement these character developments is her concurrent attention to the sights, sounds, and smells of the times, brought to life in casual moments, such as a welcomed meal: "He held out a trencher to her. Chicken juice had seeped through the bread. Susan took a deep breath. It smelled wonderful. Sautéed onions, just the way her mum made them, lay on the bread under the chicken. She took her first bite of chicken. Wonderful."
While the meat of the story lies in the puzzle of Susan's role in this world and the experiences and intentions of those who surround her, it's these details that bring the story to life, supporting Susan's exploration of a history she knows too little about. The result is an engrossing timeslip saga that will delight young fantasy enthusiasts of the genre and newcomers alike, who will find Susan a realistic, believable protagonist who continually faces challenges and overcomes obstacles in the year 1212, when "...thousands of children took to the roads of Europe, all travelling to free the Holy Land."
D. Donovan, Senior Reviewer, Midwest Book Review