Bryce Courtenay’s contribution to the world of literature has been extraordinary and varied. The South African born Australian has bestowed on us such gems as The Power of One and Jessica which have been made in to a movie and TV series respectively. I personally enjoyed reading The Power of One so much, I named my first son after the author.
Sylvia was written in 2006 and is both interesting and informative. Although it could be a little more succinct at times and a little less repetitive, it is easy reading and you feel compelled to reach the end to see how things eventually turn out.
Based on fact, the novel sets out to tell the tale of the Children’s Crusade of 1212 led by the young and charismatic Nicholas of Cologne. He compelled 20,000 children to leave their families without a backwards glance to journey from Cologne to Jerusalem, most of them barefoot and with scarce enough food to feed them. However, the Crusade doesn’t come in to play until almost half way through the book. Largely, the story is about Sylvia, a young peasant girl with an ethereal voice; a knack for bird calling; and a very useful birthmark in the shape of a fish on her back. Combine the three and you have the potential for some seemingly serious miracles.
This book is a window into the power of the magic mushroom (an odd touch that seems out of place, but there it is); the barbarities and severities of peasant life; the hypocrisies and dogma of the Catholic Church and the superstitions of mediaeval times. Add to this mix the legend of the Pied Piper and the intrigue and mystery surrounding the Crusade and you have a highly rewarding and imaginative tale.