Title: The Children’s Crusade
Publisher: John Murray
Trade Paperback: 338 pages
Publication Date: 05/05/2011
When The Children’s Crusade’s cover copy claimed that its central protagonist, Felix Strange, was going to “kill everyone” I assumed that it was exaggerating for effect. It wasn’t. Within only a few chapters the bodies were already starting to pile up and Strange appeared to be in no mood to stop the slaughter – certainly not until he’d managed to ‘punish’ everyone who he believes was involved in taking the woman he loved, Iris [which, it turns out, is quite a few people!].
There is a Raymond Chandler-esque quality to sardonic PI Strange [although, to tell the truth, he doesn’t do a huge amount of investigating in this novel – which isn’t a criticism, more of a statement of fact]. And this makes him far more empathetic and interesting protagonist and means that the he is not alienated from the reader by all of the killing that he commits.
But when he is offered a deal that could lead him straight to Iris, Strange has a choice to make. All he has to do is kill someone – a skill that comes easily to Strange. The problem? The target is a self-proclaimed prophet, Joshua, with an army of followers. And he’s only twelve-years old…
Whilst The Children’s Crusade certainly owes a lot to Chandler and James Ellroy, what it really reminded me of was Angela Carter’s brilliant 1977 book The Passion of the New Eve. Like Carter’s novel, The Children’s Crusade is set in a violent, dystopian future America, one which is ruled with an iron fist by the ‘Elders’ and the for-profit secret police, Fisher Partners.
But The Passion of the New Eve also has a scene in which Eve is captured by a group of heavily armed, pseudo-religious children. And they are very similar to Joshua’s militant followers, the Sons of David, who are all children and teenagers, and driven by religious fervour. And, much like in Carter’s novel, Hall has created a world that manages to be both alien and different, but also scarily similar to that which we live in today [and one of the most terrifying aspects of this future America is that it went to war with Iran – it really isn’t stretching the laws of possibility too far!].