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Monday, 26 April 2010

Review: The Fool's Girl

Author: Celia Rees
Release date: 5th April 2010
Genre: Historical Fiction, Elizabethan Era, YA
Target audience: 12+

Summary from Amazon:
Violetta and Feste have come to London to rescue the holy relics taken from the church in Illyria by the evil Malvolio. Their journey has been long and their adventures many, but it is not until they meet the playwright William Shakespeare that they get to tell the entire story from beginning to end! But where will this remarkable tale ultimately lead Violetta and her companion? And will they manage to save themselves, and the relics from the very evil intentions of Malvolio?

The Fool's Girl sees us in Elizabethan England. Shakespeare is living in London, working as a player for Burbage in the years before his career really takes off. The Fool's Girl is not a story about Shakepeare but of the life of Violetta and Feste. In this tale the events of Twelfth Night have been reworked. Violetta comes to England in search of Shakespeare's help to restore her country Illyria. She is the daughter of Duke Orsin and Viola - one of two couples who found love in despite many disguises in the famous play. Violetta's story is a sad one marked by loss and betrayal at the hands of her Uncle Sebastian. He is a bitter man twisted by the friendship his sister had with his wife the Lady Olivia - Olivia and Sebastian are the other lovebirds from the play.

Twelfth Night was always my favourite Shakespeare play as I was growing up. I am a reader who prefers happy stories andI naturally warm to Shakespeare's comedies. About two years ago I went with hubby to see The Merry Wives of Windsor at the Globe which must be the best place to watch the master playwright's work. So now I think maybe that is my favourite play because it is just so funny and full of sauciness. Anyway, this is an aside. I was really excited to read The Fool's Girl because it has so many things that appeal to me as a reader.

Unfortunately, I did not enjoy the book as much as I expected to. The narrative structure made this book feel quite alien to me. You read parts of the story from Violetta's viewpoint, parts from Feste and parts from Maria. Then you have the general third person narrative which is the thread which pulls the story together. As I was reading, I didn't feel that I was inside the story. The characters were not real to me but rather felt like they were puppets being used for a purpose. Naturally when you read a story, you want to care about the characters, to feel their every emotion and this is not my experience of this book. The only exception to this was Feste. Perhaps that is why the title suggests he is the one with the power in this novel. He was entertaining, cantankerous and endearing. I wish the whole story had been told from his point of view.

The book certainly has many strengths: the quality of the writing - Rees' use of figurative language is melodic and the authenticity of Elizabethan England was palpable - you really get a sense of place through this novel. I thought the ending was brilliant and unfolded in a spectacular fashion with constantly building dramatic tension. Actually, the end made me wish I had tried harder to feel the beginning of the story. I think The Fool's Girl requires effort on the part of the reader to concentrate and to be in the right mood to step into Violetta's shoes.

Overall, this book was not what I expected yet I think those expectations are a failing on my part rather than the author's. The novel captures the experience of being an Elizabethan player and the brilliance of the fool. I think fans of historical fiction will enjoy this because of its depth and attention to detail but they must be prepared to commit to the story because this is not an easy read.

Thank you to Bloomsbury for sending me the book to review.


Juju at Tales of Whimsy.com said...

Excellent review! Cool cover. Sorry you didn't love it :)

Missy said...

I'm not a huge fan of historical fiction, though I do love some Shakespeare. The narrative structure makes me hesitate a little, but this review has me intrigued enough to check it out. Thanks for posting this review!

Christina/Book Addict said...

Maybe I will pick this book up in the summer when I have more time to concentrate b/c like you said, it requires effort and who wants to put in too much effort after working all day? ha. I can also see why the narrative and various points of view threw you off. That can be tough to pull off. Thanks for being honest in your review; I'm sorry this one wasn't as good as we were hoping. The cover is amazing though.

The Book Bug said...

Great review! I agree with you abou the concentration part- its not as good as the authors other books. But hey, it has a pretty cover!

Nina said...

Honest review. I love historican fiction and this one sounded very good. Too bad that you couldn't get in the story, because of the different points of views.

I Want To Read That said...

It's a shame it didn't live up to your expectations - I hate it when that happens:( Thanks for the review:)

LovesSam said...

I'm quite a fan of historical fiction, maybe it's because i was obsessed with history when I was in school and I loved the whole victorian england phase and the courting and balls and the society, so this sounds like something I would love. Might have to get this one!

Sasha said...

I'm very excited to read this as I also love historical fiction! Thanks for the honest review :)

Lenore said...

I do love the cover though!

Linna (21 ♡ pages) said...

Oh, I'm reading Twelfth Night right now! It's so interesting to see the characters re-imagined :D

Rhiana said...

I really enjoyed this...although I do agree that the split narrativ with the third person meant it was difficult to connect fully with the characters. Personally I would have liked to read more from Violetta's point of view. Great review!

Kals said...

It was the lovely cover that first got me interested in the book. I haven't read any historical fiction books that focus on Shakespeare and I'd like to give this one a try. Thanks for the great review! :)

rachelhestondavis said...

It's great to see young adult lit drawing on the classics! Especially the truly rich classics like Shakespeare.

My rule of thumb in writing is to keep differing POVs to a minimum. Usually, I don't enjoy a book unless it has two or less POV characters (the one exception to this being Robin Hobb's LIVESHIP TRADERS TRILOGY).

Rachel Heston Davis

Lauren said...

Hmm. I'm not the best at concentrating early on in a book - I tend to wait for it to 'grab' me. However, I usually find that when I make the effort it pays off.

This is an excellent review, Becky. I'm feeling a little less excited about the book but I love the thought of experiencing an authentic Elizabethan England.

So Many Books, So Little Time said...

I've heard great things about this but I've never been able to finish a Celia Rees book. Hopefully I'll get a chance to give it a go at some point!