Some time last year, I was in a second hand bookshop, when a title leapt out at me: The Fool Beloved by Jeffery Farnol. Regular readers will know how much Robin Hobb's Fool, Beloved, means to me. So, I simply had to buy the book, just because of its title.
I asked Robin Hobb on Twitter if there was any connection between this book and her work, and she said she knew nothing of it. But she would like to know what it was about. Now, there is a challenge! I set about reading the book and finding out what I could about its author.
According to Wikipedia:
"Jeffery Farnol (10 February 1878 – 9 August 1952) was a British writer since (sic) 1907 until his death, known for writing more than 40 romance novels, some formulaic and set in the Georgian Era or English Regency period, and swashbucklers. He, with Georgette Heyer, founded the Regency romantic genre."
The Fool Beloved was published in 1950, so was a late novel for Farnol. It seems quite old-fashioned for the 1950s, but I suppose that if his readers enjoyed his style, there was no point in changing it. The book is dedicated to the memory of his brother, Ewart, who was killed in action aged 19, at Vieskraal, Africa, in 1901.
So what is The Fool Beloved all about?
Well, it's an historical romance set in the Renaissance, that reads like a cross between a Shakespearean comedy and Sir Walter Scott. The Fool of the title is actually a young aristocrat named Angelo, whose brother is murdered by the villain, Gonzago. (Actually, Gonzago tried to kill Angelo as well, and was only foiled because Angelo had conveniently swapped clothes with a friend.) Determined to clear his name, solve his brother's murder, and win back his true love, Duchess Jenevra, from Gonzago's advances, Angelo disguises himself as a jester or fool. He can then go about the ducal court, popping up in gardens with his bells jingling, offering all sorts of cryptic warnings and tender advice to Jenevra, while everyone thinks he's dead. He also gathers a team of allies who know his true identity, including a friar, a strong man and a page boy. Angelo succeeds in making Jenevra fall in love with the Fool, but will she love noble Angelo in the same way? And Gonzago always has one last trick up his sleeve to delay the happy ending.
It's an action-packed tale, full of coincidences, misunderstandings, grisly goings-on and heaving bosoms. The language is pretty archaic, and some of the supposedly witty conversations make you think the author is actually trying to be Shakespeare. For example:
"Jenevra, beloved, shame not thy noble love for shame of this motley."
"Tush, my Lord; fie on thee, Sebastian!"
All in all, though, it is a fun and entertaining novel, that you don't need to take too seriously. And, given the dedication, it's quite touching that it should concern the story of two brothers, one living and the other dead.