Sunday, October 23, 2011

Arty -- Thirteenth Night by Alan Gordon

You've read Twelfth Night, right? You know, Shakespeare and all? If you haven't, there are three things you should do. Firstly, you should repeatedly hit yourself in the face with a two-by-four. Secondly, turn off your computer. Thirdly, go read Twelfth Night. Right now. Because neither the book nor the review will make sense if you haven't read it.

Okay, read it now? Good.

The events of Shakespeare's tale are all true. There really was a Duke of Orsino who married an orphaned twin named Viola. Olivia really married Sebastian. And, most importantly, there really was a jester named Feste and a steward named Malvolio.

But their actions were all a bit more sinister than Shakespeare made it out to be.

Fastforward fifteen years afterward, and Feste, now known as Theophilus, is an aging clown with a drinking problem, seemingly useless in the Fools' Guild - a training center for fools, clowns... and secret agents. The Fools' Guild sends its jester-agents into highly touchy situations of international importance to sue for peace or war, convince nobles to courses of actions... and sometimes assassinate those nobles. But Theophilus, as he's fond of pointing out, is no longer a young man, and there's not much for him to do.

Then word comes that the Duke of Orsino is dead. Worried that Malvolio, the more-dangerous-than-he-appeared steward, who declared revenge on the Duke's house (and Feste) fifteen years ago, has begun to execute that revenge, Theophilus travels to Orsino to investigate.

Thus begins a continuation of Twelfth Night, returning to the lives of Viola and Sebastian, Olivia and Fabian, and, of course, Sir Toby Belch and Andrew Aguecheek, fifteen years after we first met them.

I really wanted to like this book. And - guess what? - I did! It's Shakespeare. It's mystery. And, come on, it's jesters. Who doesn't like jesters? (If you answered 'I don't,' go hit yourself with that two-by-four again. I mean it.)

Now, this was not a perfect book. A few aspects of the mystery were confusing, and there were times when there wasn't enough foreshadowing for the plot twists to make as much sense as they could have. The description was bare, too. I never quite got a feel for what even Theophilus looked like, except that he's always describing himself as 'old.' (I guesstimate he's around forty.) Most of the other characters don't have much to them, except for brief adjectives like 'fat,' 'beautiful,' or 'young.' I'm choosing to believe that this was to retain a shred of a playlike aspect.

But if you want to know anything about my reading habits, you should know that I need good characters more than a good plot - and the characters are where the awesomeness of this book lies. Theophilus is a great MC. He's witty and sarcastic (as all jesters should be), he's depressed but not mopey, and flawed but not a horrible person. He's very human. Viola (probably my favorite female Shakespeare character besides Beatrice) is a great character, as well as Andrew Aguecheek, Maria, Viola's and Orsino's son (who is ADORABLE!), and Bobo, the fool who's sent to help Theophilus unravel the mystery. Even the minor characters are funny and engaging, and you're really sad when any char dies (which happens a couple times).

The mystery, while not on level with the characterization, is interesting, and, while political, wasn't too much so for me to grasp. And I really hate political mysteries. I called the main villain about a third of the way through, though I didn't really have any evidence for it (it's always the one you least suspect, after all). However, there was a minor 'villain' who I really did not expect and nearly shouted when they revealed it - even though it made sense.

So if you like Shakespeare or period fiction or mystery or just a really well-written book, pick up Thirteenth Night. Oh, and it's a series! Book number one in the Fools' Guild Mysteries, there are seven sequels, as of 2010. Seven! Here's hoping they're all as interesting as the first one.

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