Sunday, December 03, 2006

The Fool's Tale by Nicole Galland

This book is all about the characters.

It could have so easily just been another anachronistic, Medieval love triangle about a Welsh king, a queen he married for politics, and a courtier who fights the growing attraction he feels for the queen because the king is his oldest and dearest friend.

(Getting any Camelot vibes yet?)

There's where the similarities end, though. Gwirion (the friend) isn't exactly Sir Lancelot. He's more like the court jester; a perpetual adolescent who's always up to some prank or other. Noble (the king) keeps him around because Gwirion amuses him, but also because when they were boys, Gwirion once went through a terrible experience to save Noble's life. The horrors Gwirion survived are alluded to in the prologue, but never really fleshed out. However, the incident does add depth to the men's friendship and go a long way towards explaining how Gwirion and Noble grow to be like they are.

As you might imagine, Gwirion's less than thrilled when Noble decides to marry. There goes all their bachelor fun. What's worse is Noble's bride is the simpery, little niece of his worst enemy. Gwirion doesn't think much of Isabel from the start - and the feeling is completely mutual.

Isabel isn't completely happy with her husband either once she realizes Noble never intended to give up his playboy ways just because she entered the picture. Simply said, she and Gwirion don't stay worst enemies forever. Most of the suspense of the second half of the book comes from whether they can keep their love affair a secret from their friend and king - and what the sometimes-cruel Noble would ever do if he found out.

Just when you find yourself despising Noble for being a callous adulterer - or Isabel, for being judgmental - or Gwirion, for going too far with his tomfoolery, Galland turns around and creates a completely different view of a sympathetic character. It's been a long time since I've read about such three-dimensional people in a novel.

I couldn't put it down. I had to know what happened to them.

And the denouement... Well, it's stunning. I don't think I can say too much more without spoiling it.

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