There is a small town in France where the Jesters have their guild. But the Jesters who are part of this guild are not merely entertainers. They are secret agents and fixers, working for no set government, but to bring stability to the world.
It is soon to be Thirteenth Night, the night where the natural order of the world is upended, and those without power are allowed to freely mock and make fun of those who do. Preparing for this night is one Jester who was known in a former life, in a former town, as Feste. Feste is enjoying a beer in a tavern when a man comes in seeking the fool named Feste. He has a simple message for Feste- the Duke of Orsino is dead.
This chills Feste and sends him back to the small town of Orsino, because once he was sent there to bring a peace to the region. A fight between two of the nobles in town was ended by Feste. He used the simple expedient of marrying the woman to the male Duke, which ended the war in the town and solved the problem. And now the count is dead.
Feste returns to town, disguised not as a Jester this time, but as a merchant. Here, he has two tasks, to find out whether the count was killed or comitted suicide, and if he was killed, to find out who killed him. But Feste hasn't counted on one particular fact: the woman who became the Duchess was someone he was half in love with, and it seems impossible for him to conceive of the Duchess as a murderess.
The Duchess, Olivia, is an unusual woman. Back ten years ago when Feste was last in Orsino, she spent half her time in male garb, playing her own brother so that she could find out things that a woman would not be allowed to know or find out on her own. Now, with her husband dead, she's been cut out of the succession, as only a male is deemed strong enough to be regent for her son. Could that have made her angry enough to kill her husband? And who is this steward who allows no one to see the Duchess?
As Feste delves deeper and deeper into Orsino, his affection and even love for Olivia is stoked once more, and it seems that her feelings might be equally engaged. But who is trying to kill Feste, and does it have anything to do with the death of the Duke? Or is Olivia's seeming affection nothing more than a covering-up of her desire to kill him?
I loved this book. Alan Gordon's work I found easy to read and get into. From the very beginning of the book, we are plunged into Feste's point of view and his feelings. He could let the situation in Orsino be investigated by another fool, but because he solved the original problem, which may have led to the Duke being killed, he feels it is up to him to go back and solve this problem as well. Additionally, he knows all the players already, and the backstory to the current situation.
I really enjoyed the book, but while I did find the idea of Feste and the countess being attracted to each other interesting (and yes, appropriate), I also found the ending to be a more modern kind of ending than something that would make sense in the sort of medieval story being told in the book. I can't give it away, because I don't want to spoil the ending, but... a person in her position would not have made that decision, nor would the other characters have supported her in it.
I found the book very interesting and an excellent read. The ending threw me out of the medieval world created in the book for more than a bit, but at the same time, I found it deeply satisfying to modern sensibilities, so I really can't complain all that much. It remains a bit more than a niggle, but for story reasons, I can accept it. Highly recommended, but be aware that the ending might be jarring to someone who knows the medieval mindset.