Tuesday, July 8, 2008
The Fool's Tale - Nicole Galland
Wales, 1198: a time of treachery, passion and uncertainty. King Maelgwyn ap Cadwallon, familiarly known as Noble, struggles to protect his small kingdom from foes both outside and inside his borders. Pressured into a marriage of political convenience, he takes as his bride the young, headstrong Isabel Mortimer, niece of his powerful English nemesis.
Through strength of character, Isabel wins her husband's grudging respect, but finds the Welsh court backward and barbaric -- especially Noble's oldest friend and confidant, the rascally Gwirion, a charismatic prankster who delights in making the foreign-born queen feel unwelcome. Before long, however, Gwirion and Isabel's mutual animosity is abruptly transformed, and the king finds himself as threatened by his loved ones as by the enemies who menace his crown.
The books opens up with the party of the Welsh king returning home. They are attacked by their enemy Roger Mortimer and the king is killed while his heir escapes thanks in part to strength of will of his friend who refuses to reveal his whereabouts even under torture. Thus is cemented the friendship between the future king and the friend who would be his fool.
A few years later in an attempt to gain peace the king weds Isabel Mortimer, a young lady of Roger Mortimer's family thus expecting to solve his problems on the border. From the beginning is clear that the king, Noble, and his fool, Guirion, share an unusual and absorbing friendship in which Isabel will not be able to interfere. When asked to choose between the two Noble always chooses Guirion and the latter delights in telling crude jokes to embarrass and humiliate Isabel. At the same time Noble refuses to stop having lovers and engaging in extra marital affair, he finds Isabel not to his taste and she can't accept that for him she is merely a convenience, so she spends a big part of her time making scenes and screaming at him and hating Guirion who helps him set up his trysts.
When the castle is invaded in Noble's absence and Isabel and Guirion have to spend time together they realise that they are in fact attracted to each other and become lovers thus leading a tense situation and ultimately a confrontation of sorts.
I found it very interesting the tidbits we learn of welsh culture and law. They are mainly due to Isabel's desire to know more about the place she lives in and she discovers things are very different from the Norman society she is used to.
However I found the story depended too much of the physical relationships of the main characters and I would have preferred a more psychological approach. Isabel is always mad at Noble for his affairs, her relationship with him is based solely on sex, her relationship with Guirion is once again physical, I couldn't decide what attracted them to each other and they seemed incapable of keeping their hands of each other. The most complex one seemed to be between Noble and Guirion, their bond forged the day the fool saved the future king, however Guirion is unable to control his impulses to be with Isabel and Noble is unable to share. In the end there could be no other solution I suppose but I felt it fell short of my expectations.