It’s 1601. Violetta and Feste are in London, seeking out the playwright, William Shakespeare, who is enjoying success at the Globe Theatre. However, it’s not his plays they are interested in. They are there to request his help to save their beloved country, Illyria.
Daughter of the once Duke Orsin, Illyria has collapsed due to civil war and Violetta has been exiled along with her Mother’s loyal fool, Feste. Violetta is sure that an ancient relic, stolen by the evil Malvolio, is here in England and key to her return as Duchess and saviour of her country. With Shakespeare’s help they set of on a dangerous adventure packed with treachery, political intrigue,witchcraft, romance and of course, plays.
I read two of Celia Rees’ books last year and fell completely in love with her writing. I was extremely keen to read her latest book, The Fool’s Girl (released 5th April 2010 in the UK) and was more than a little excited to receive it ahead of publication. Once again Rees spins a fantastic adventure that brings history to life and has it jumping of the pages.
Now, I have to be honest and say- embarrassingly, I know almost nothing at all about Shakespeare. Apart from wading through Macbeth many years ago at school, my experience of the great bard is almost zero (should I have admitted that?). This in no way affected my enjoyment of A Fool’s Girl and in fact, I found it fascinating. I’ve heard of Twelfth Night, but until reading this book, knew nothing about it. Rees bases The Fool’s Girl around the famous play, in that the events that happened in Illyria were real, and Shakespeare is inspired to tell the story, known as Twelfth Night, after meeting and helping Violetta. Rather than feel alienated by my lack of knowledge I felt I actually learned from the book and also had my interest in Shakespeare himself piqued. I actually WANT to go and see/read some Shakespeare straight away! I was also able to pick up on some references to some of the plays, such as the three old herbalists who I presume later become the witches in Macbeth.
Where Celia Rees absolutely excels is bringing history to life. Descriptions of sights, sounds and smells all create such imagery that for a while I actually was in seventeenth century London. She doesn’t shy away from the grisly truth so at times the book is violent and slightly disturbing, especially in her descriptions of the fate of prisoners and betrayers. But this makes the book seem all the more authentic. Seventeenth century London wasn’t the nicest of places after all, with the heads of criminals hanging from London Bridge and the lack of sanitation.
Violetta is an inspiring character. She’s strong, determined, loyal and proud so even in hard times she never loses sight of herself. I found myself really routing for her and sympathetic of her plight. However at times I did feel that the emphasis on Shakespeare was too much and Violetta became a little lost. The book is told in an alternating third person narrative and then first person from several characters. I would have preferred a little more from our heroine herself, as I thoroughly enjoyed her voice, and the story was, after all, hers to tell. Feste provided a humorous and fascinating character and is complex with his moods and personality, although his devotion to Violetta never wavers.
The book is full of action, myth and romantic legends, which I absolutely adored. In particular, Violetta’s retelling of her parent’s life in Illyria is captivatingly beautiful. Rees’ writing is incredibly readable, while remaining extremely intelligent and I read the book very quickly. There was enough mystery and intrigue to keep me gripped and I finished the whole 320 pages in just over a day.
There was one area I was a little disappointed. There is a romantic thread that begins in Violetta’s childhood and continues throughout the book. I found it a little lacking, in that it felt slightly contrived and without real passion, which was a shame. Perhaps the reason for this goes back to what I said earlier, that Violetta’s voice could perhaps have been used more and thus made the romance more believable and exciting? I still enjoyed the book very much, but felt if this had been developed a little more, it would have been amazing.
Celia Rees remains one of my favourite authors, and The Fool’s Girl does nothing to change that. I remember when reading the magnificence that is Witch Child, thinking how fantastically it would have tied in with studying The Crucible at school. I think the same applies with The Fool’s Girl and Shakespeare, I’m fairly certain I would have found him more interesting had I read this book at that time. But The Fool’s Girl is also a great book just to read for enjoyment. It’s fast, it’s gripping, and it’s entertaining. I’d recommend this for anyone who enjoys an exciting historical novel, from aged 13 up, or as an introduction to this genre.
Thank you to the publishers, Bloomsbury, for sending me this book to review.