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When Illyria is sacked, the fool Feste spirits the Duke's daughter, Violetta, to London, to chase the evil Malvolio and reclaim an ancient relic. There they meet William Shakespeare, who they persuade to help them in an exciting quest which builds to a climax in the Forest of Arden.

The Fool's Girl by Celia Rees

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Category: Teens
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Robert James
Reviewed by Robert James
Summary: Really enjoyable mix of Shakespearean characters and historical people make this a novel for teens and adults to savour.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 320 Date: April 2010
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-0747597322

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As those with more than a passing knowledge of Shakespeare will realize, Feste and Malvolio are characters from Twelfth Night, and it's that story which Violetta – daughter of heroine Viola – tells Shakespeare the first time they meet, thus inspiring the play. However, as she says to Will, few stories end at the happy ever after and much of this book is told in flashbacks as we hear of the perils which beset Illyria in the years following the familiar events. I have to admit, my knowledge of Twelfth Night is patchy, (I know the basic plot and have seen the Amanda Bynes film based very loosely on it, but have never read or seen the play itself), but I still found these parts really interesting, and am sure those readers more familiar than I am with it will enjoy it even more.

In between the flashbacks, Violetta, Feste, her love Stephano, and Shakespeare himself try to regain the ancient relic. We also get cameos from Queen Elizabeth's Secretary of State Robert Cecil, the legendary actor Richard Burbage, and some of the people who Shakespeare would base characters from other plays on. I don't want to give too much away about these other characters, but a certain Robin plays an important part, and is just as I'd imagined his character to be. There's a great mix of stirring action and excellent dialogue, as Will is left trying to help the heroes recapture the treasure but also follow the demands of the Machiavellian Cecil.

Celia Rees specialises in writing about strong, independent heroines, and Violetta certainly doesn't let the reader down there. She's continually brave, defiant in the face of danger, and ready to stand up for herself, her country and her friends. The supporting cast here is also really well-described – the mixture of fictional and real characters works well, and the historical figures always seem very believably written. Her description of Elizabethan times is also very good, and her depiction of Illyria – based on Croatia at that time, according to her acknowledgements – is excellent.

All in all this is most likely to be enjoyed by those with at least a passing knowledge of Shakespeare and Elizabethan times, enough to recognize the majority of the characters. Having said that, it's certainly not inaccessible to others – as I mentioned earlier, my own familiarity with Twelfth Night is sketchy at best, and those readers who don't realise which Shakespearean heroes and villains these characters are inspired by (or inspiring, depending how you look at it!) will still enjoy this as a really good romp.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

Further Reading: Tudor inspired novels and non-fiction works appear to in high demand at the moment and there's plenty to choose from. Any teenagers interested in Shakespeare would enjoy the non-fiction The Boy Who Would Be Shakespeare by Doug Stewart. Those interested in 16th century novels will surely like both The King's Rose by Alisa M Libby, and The Lady in the Tower by Marie-Louise Jensen.

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