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After being declared a "wolf's head" by his manor's corrupt steward for a crime he didn't commit (meaning that anyone can kill him like a common animal--and collect a reward), this timid boy has to flee a tiny village that's the only world he's ever known. But before our protagonist escapes, Avi makes sure that we're thoroughly briefed on the injustices of feudalism--the countless taxes cottars must pay, the constant violence, the inability of a flawed church to protect its parishioners, etc. Avi then folds in the book's central mystery just as the boy is leaving: "Asta's son," as he's always been known, learns from the village priest that his Christian name is Crispin, and that his parents' origins--and fates--might be more perplexing than he ever imagined.
Providing plenty of period detail (appropriately gratuitous for the age group) and plenty of chase-scene suspense, Avi tells a good story, develops a couple of fairly compelling characters, and even manages to teach a little history lesson. (Fortunately, kids won't realize that they're learning about England's peasant revolt of 1381 until it's far too late.) (Ages 10 to 14) --Paul Hughes
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