A Fool’s Tale by Nicole Galland
A Fool’s Tale is an extraordinary mix of real life history and romantic fiction set in the tumultuous world of 10th century Wales. Themes of loyalty, betrayal and survival are the driving force behind this spellbound telling of the trials and tribulations of Gwirion (Gir-EE-on), King Maelgwin’s (Mile- gwin) fool and the uncommon yet very powerful relationship between them. The two men are inseparable, bound together since childhood by extenuating circumstances, and are almost never without the other. But when the King marries young Isabel, in hopes to form an alliance with his long-standing Norman rival Roger Mortimer, that bond is tested beyond its limits. In no time Gwirion becomes caught in the middle of a perilous love triangle that puts all three lives in danger.
Isabel knew beyond a doubt that when she was allowed to marry it would be for political purposes. However, in her the back of her mind was the wish for the kind of romance she read about Chretien de Troyes’s Lancelot and the Round Table. King Maelgwin is young and handsome and for a brief moment a spark of hope for a happy marriage blossoms in her mind until she sees how much more Gwirion means to the King than she does. She struggles to fit in to the Welsh culture, which her maid servant Adele calls barbaric. Though the King consistently urges her to learn to like Gwirion the bitterness between her and the Fool grows daily. Her relationship with the King, his habit of inviting his serving girls to his chambers, Gwirion’s constant immodest and offensive foolery and her inability to produce an heir after a horrific miscarriage all take their toll on her. Until she and Gwirion are imprisoned together by one of the King’s disloyal allies.
King Maelgwin is handsome, brave and bold as a king should be. However, he is manipulative, selfish and quite often over indulgent when it comes to Gwirion. To the King Isabel is nothing more than a political tool, one he must pacify yet control to get what he needs. Most of the time he treats her like a child that he doesn’t really want but must tolerate. He encourages Gwirion to torment the Queen with his distasteful behavior. He, himself, torments her with backhanded comments about her being a Mortimer, belittling her ability to rule in his place and his nightly affairs with Madrun, one of the kitchen girls. Maelgwin is at times cold and exceedingly cruel yet at times you find yourself completely taken in by his charm.
Gwirion is an orphan and due to events that happened in their childhood he is beholding to Maelgwin for eternity and the King never ceases to remind him of this. He is an accomplished harpist which is the one good quality that Isabel allows him, in the beginning. He, along with his friend Corr, a midget, commits horrendously inappropriate pranks in public, often humiliating visiting lords, especially Isabel’s relatives. Although he comes and goes throughout the castle and the village as he pleases, he belongs to the King and there is nothing he can do in the way of living his own life without Maelgwin’s permission.
This story is a must read for historical romance lovers. The characters will make laugh and cry and become infuriated throughout the book. Ms. Galland provides you with a pronunciation guide for the Welsh language. But it won’t take long to acclimate your tongue to the names of these delightful characters.
By Jo Ann Mason
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