It's hard to believe that I read these books for the first time when I was 12 (with the exception of Pagan's Daughter, which came out much later). Reading them now, I'm not sure I'd recommend them for a 12-year-old! But at the time, a lot of the adult content went completely over my head - for example, I was completely oblivious to the fact that Jordan was gay, and I didn't really grasp exactly what Aeldred's crime was in Pagan's Vows. But I'm also kind of glad that I did read them long before I had discovered slash fiction. I don't have anything against slash, don't get me wrong - and these books lend themselves to it soooo easily - but that is the very reason I'm glad I had a chance to appreciate them without the slash goggles. If you take away any thoughts of Pagan/Roland, what you have is a beautiful, heartbreaking tale of friendship - of people who love one another deeply and unconditionally but in a completely platonic way. Jordan is another matter, of course - but the central relationship at the heart of each of the Pagan books is one between a mentor and a protege, and that is a wonderful thing. I also love the fact that both Pagan and subsequently his protege, Isidore, get a story in which they have taken on the mentoring role, and this is one of the reasons I enjoyed Pagan's Scribe and Pagan's Daughter so much more on this re-read. It's great to see them both as adults - to see them accomplished, respected, an inspiration to others. When I first read Pagan's Scribe I was just disappointed that Pagan was no longer a snarky teenager. Now, I love the fact that Pagan becomes a wise, intellectual (but nevertheless snarky) adult. (Though I still feel that Isidore isn't nearly as engaging a narrator as Pagan was.)
I also now have a lot more appreciation for the peripheral characters. Jordan is an obvious example - we are told so little about his history, and yet what little we know raises so many questions. What was his childhood like? What sort of experiences would he have had, knowing he was gay in the medieval world? His sociopathic streak - what cruelty has brought that out in his character? Another character I find more interesting now is Brother Clement, Pagan's novice master in Pagan's Vows. When I read the book for the first time, I saw him exactly the way Pagan did: as a harsh, nasty teacher who picks on Pagan for no good reason. Of course, his true motivation is revealed at the end, but even then, teenage me sympathised with Pagan and despised Clement. Now I can see far more clearly that Clement isn't picking on Pagan: he's challenging him. It is obvious that he devotes all his time to Pagan, that he neglects the other novices, that all his efforts are directed towards giving Pagan's sharp intellect something to work with... and Pagan, like the teenager he is, remains oblivious and unappreciative until the very end.
How I wish Catherine Jinks would write more of these books. On her website, she's said that another book set between Pagan's Vows and Pagan's Scribe would be out of the question, as Pagan and Roland lead separate lives at that point, and Pagan is getting a bit old... but I would read that book, if she wrote it. I would gobble it up like I gobbled all five books in the series. I would also quite happily read another Babylonne book - if only so I could see more of adult Isidore - a far more likeable character than his teenage self.