Neil Flambé and the Crusader’s Curse (2012), by Kevin Sylvester

You won’t be able to buy this one quite yet. It is set for release on May 8th. You can pre-order copies from the large online retailers, or (my preference) KidsBooks in Vancouver. Or, if you are lucky enough to live in the Toronto area, you can meet Kevin at the Toronto Public Library (40 Orchard View Blvd, Toronto) at 9 am on 12 May 2012. Or so the Simon& Schuster website tells me. They even have a map…

Neil Flambé and the Crusader’s Curse

I am so used to Kevin Sylvester’s cast of characters representing the cultural diversity that I know as Vancouver that an important, subtly expressed, relationship in The Crusader’s Curse failed to surprise me sufficiently: or so I am told. It was called to my attention by another reviewer to whom I lent my copy, a reviewer who is prominent in the children’s literature world for his active support of GBLTQ literature for readers of all ages. In the penultimate chapter, Jean-Claude Chili comments that his friend Hugo Victoire “eez used to loud noises. I snore like a greezly bear” (274). They have been together for “many years” Jean-Claude admits, and he strove to keep Hugo, like his sister—the people he loves—out of what he knew to be a very dangerous situation. Nothing more. For years now GLBTQ critics have been asking for texts that aren’t about homosexuality, or about “coming out,” or focus on the conflicts raging within our strongly heteronormative society, but rather present alternative sexualities as a non-confrontational reality, as they should be. Such representation is slowly beginning to appear. Neil Flambé and the Crusader’s Curse, even more than the first two culturally diverse texts in the series, lies in the vanguard of social tolerance.

More than that, though, The Crusader’s Curse is another delectable taste of mystery and adventure: an international Stanley Park for children. When the Neil Flambé cookbook comes out (I mention the possibility purely from desire, not from insider knowledge), I will immediately cook the recipes from this novel (if I can get my hands on some fresh seagull)! If you ever need to seriously cook your Canada goose—or hedgehog, or garter snake—Neil Flambé is your man, or rather, boy.

But Neil is growing up. As he hits his fifteenth birthday, he seems to have lost his panache; the food he serves his guests appalls them, and the arrogant boy-chef learns to eat humble pie. The reader, privy to the historical backstory upon which Sylvester loves to construct his narrative palimpsests, knows that the curse of the Flambés has descended: Neil’s culinary senses have desserted him. He is almost overcome, and readers are on tenderhooks as they follow Neil’s vacillation between depression, anxiety, and anger, with only enough information (such is Sylvester’s admirable narrative control) to trust that the plot will not burst into flame in the oven. It almost does, and I must admit that the final scenes were hard to follow, relying as they did on the reader’s ability to create visual images from the barrage of action words required. But the failing, I know, lies in this reader: the children to whom I lent the book loved the ending with all of its excitement combined with Sylvester’s inimitable sense of humour. But it made me wonder if there are anime artists and producers waiting to create a film version for us? And would we want that…? Perhaps not: Sylvester’s language not only reveals his subtle, sardonic humour in a way that film could not, but also creates layers of narrative that replicate the nuances of culinary artistry, drawing on all of our senses, not only the visual. So, Mr. Sylvester, back into your garret to garnish Neil Flambé #4 (Neil Flambé and the Tokyo Treasure), or are you starting on that cookbook yet?

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