The Fool's Girl by Celia Rees, published by Bloomsbury on 5th April 2010
Young and beautiful Violetta may be of royal blood, but her kingdom is in shambles when she arrives in London on a mysterious mission. Her journey has been long and her adventures many, but it is not until she meets the playwright William Shakespeare that she gets to tell the entire story from beginning to end. Violetta and her comic companion, Feste, have come in search of an ancient holy relic that the evil Malvolio has stolen from their kingdom. But where will their remarkable quest—and their most unusual story—lead? In classic Celia Rees style, it is an engrossing journey, full of political intrigue, danger, and romance.
I've only read one Celia Rees book prior to this, Sovay, which I liked but didn't completely fall in love with. However, as soon as I read the blurb of 'The Fool's Girl' I just had to pick it up. I'm a massive Shakespeare fan and this book follows on from the ending of 'Twelfth Night'. The whole cast of characters are featured, from Viola and Sebastian to Orsino, Olivia and of course Feste. I don't think it would really matter if you hadn't read the original play or seen it performed, although knowing the background adds an enormous amount of richness and depth to the story. Celia Rees has spun a captivating tale in which she has imagined the fates of many of the central players - some good, some bad, and pictures what their lives are like away from the island of Illyria.
The story's told through the eyes of Violetta, the daughter of Viola and Orsino, who arrives in seventeenth century London with a secret agenda. I loved Violetta - her bravery and courage shines throughout and she makes a perfect heroine. She soon becomes embroiled with the real life figure of William Shakespeare, who Rees depicts before he becomes the famous playwright of Stratford. I loved all the little references to his plays, such as his struggle to write 'Hamlet' and the scene where he's reunited with his family, including his wife Anne Hathaway. Rees herself says that she was daunted to write about one of the greatest figures in English Literature but I think she's done it brilliantly.
I loved revisiting all the characters - it's a bit like meeting old friends again and I enjoyed the unravelling of the mystery surrounding their real reasons for being in London. My only real criticism would be the characterisation of Malvolio. Whenever I've seen the play performed I've always felt really sympathetic towards him. I think he gets a bit of a hard time and I would love it if someone attempted to put that right. He's really not so bad and he does get teased mercilessly by everyone in the play. However, that aside, this was a great book and I'd recommend it to new and old fans of Celia Rees. Plus, if you're a Shakespeare buff like me then you'll want to explore Rees's take on a literary classic.
Find out more about Celia Rees on her website or check out her facebook page
Also, see Celia talking about the inspiration for the book in Shakespeare's hometown of Stratford on youtube