Thirteenth Night by Alan Gordon

Thirteenth NightIn twelfth century Illyria, the lady Viola is shipwrecked and separated from her twin brother Sebastian. After much cross-dressing antics, Viola marries the Duke Orsino and her brother marries the Countess Olivia. And they all live happily ever after, with the exception of Olivia’s pompous steward Malvolio, who is made a fool of, and storms off, swearing revenge. You may have heard of the story – oh, it happened on Twelfth Night, if that’s a clue.

But it would seem that is only one side of the story. In fact Malvolio was a foreign agent looking to undermine the Duke and the Countess, but Feste – otherwise known as Brother Theophilus of the secretive Fool’s Guild – arranged events to humiliate the steward. The bit about Malvolio promising revenge – that bit was true…

Fifteen years later, and Theophilus receives a simple message – “Orsino is dead”. Sensing Malvolio’s hand in the matter, he returns to Illyria. But after such a time, Malvolio could be anywhere – or anyone…

It’s taken me a while to get round to this one – I picked it up on the recommendation of Paul Moots as a series that would fall under the Medieval Miscreants banner, but finally picked it up off the TBR pile(s). And I’m very, very glad I did.

First of all, I do like a bit of Shakespeare. Twelfth Night isn’t my favourite play, but I’ve got a decent working knowledge of it. I’m pretty sure that such knowledge isn’t required to enjoy the story, but in the same way that the Mervyn Stone books are great mysteries enhanced by the background of the world of science fiction TV, a little background knowledge brings this story into vibrant life.

Theophilus is a fantastic lead. The secret society of the Fools’ Guild – never fully explained, which probably helps – gives the story an original spin while the plot  keeps moving forward, teasing the reader with minor (but both surprising and clued) revelations until the big reveal of who is behind the various deaths. The supporting characters, both from the original play and new to Illyria are entertaining and the whole thing zips along with a real charm.

As for the mystery, I did spot part of the solution – in fact I thought it was pretty inevitable – but I missed the big picture, which is very well done. You could argue that some of the clues need some pretty eclectic knowledge, but that just made me feel like I’d learned something – not the most useful of facts, but something nonetheless.

All in all, I absolutely loved this book – it ticked all of the boxes for me. Highly Recommended.

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