I’m just back from Kalamazoo, Michigan, where I sold books at an international congress of medieval scholars, Thursday through Sunday. (Apparently, if you're a medieval scholar, this meeting is the place to be.)
This is the sales pitch I did 50, 60, 70 times during our days there. You can guess from the length of this that I didn’t get to say all this to all customers, but I did as much of this as I could whenever I could, and pieces of it for just about anyone who allowed me the opportunity.
Why post all this? To persuade you to give Alan’s books a try, and to provide something of a guide to approaching this unusual and fabulous series. To illustrate how hard we have to work to describe these books, and to show how much describing a book’s publishing history becomes part of what we end up talking about when we talk about books. And to demonstrate one way that independent booksellers take a different approach in selling than other kinds of booksellers. Would chain stores or warehouse clubs or grocery stores be willing to work this hard to sell a book? Can you readily find all this information at online bookstores?
Alan Gordon’s books are wonderful – clever, funny, beautifully plotted. Alan’s premise is that all of the fools in the Middle Ages, including the fools in Shakespeare, are all part of a guild that works like a Middle Ages CIA: they run around, meddling in affairs. The books are great fun. Because Alan’s writing about fools, he gets to do all of the humor – the verbal humor and the physical comedy. The banter and the wordplay are lovely, and there are some really hilarious juggling scenes.
The first book in the series is Thirteenth Night. It’s set in 1200, and you can probably tell from the title it’s a sequel to Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night: Feste the fool – whose real name is Theophilos, Feste is a stage name -- is sitting in a bar when he gets word that Orsino is dead. He immediate suspects Malvolio, and races off to Illyria to investigate. This one is here in paperback; it’s $14.
After Thirteenth Night, the characters go off to Constantinople and get involved in the crusades and all the intrigue there. The second book is Jester Leaps In, and that’s out of print and not all that easy to find, but we have two signed first edition hardcovers that we borrowed from another book dealer so that we could have it here. They’re $24 each.
Third in the series is Death in the Venetian Quarter. This one came out in hardcover in 2002 and it was just published in paperback for the first time last week. It’s a $13.95 trade paperback. They’re still in Constantinople, and they get involved in what’s essentially a locked room mystery. This is probably the most straightforward mystery in this series, and it’s very well done.
The main action of Widow of Jerusalem actually takes place prior to the first book in the series, even though this was the fourth book Alan published. There’s a framing story that puts this book after Venetian Quarter, but it’s one of those “around the campfire” tales, about the Fools’ Guild’s involvement in events of 1191 swirling around Isabelle, the Queen of Jerusalem. It’s one of the most elegantly plotted mysteries I’ve ever read; the ending is just beautiful. This one is out of print, but I’ve found a couple of used hardcovers; they’re $22 each. I don’t know anything about a paperback edition.
For the fifth book in the series, Alan returns to Shakespeare. In An Antic Disposition, Alan deconstructs Hamlet, and it’s great fun. The fools play a somewhat greater role in Hamlet than you might have suspected. This one is also a flashback story; it takes place even earlier than Widow of Jerusalem, so you can jump right into the series here too. I have had Antic Disposition here at the congress the last few years; it was published three years ago. The hardcover is still in print, and it's $24.95. No, I don’t know if it’s going to be done in paperback either.
And we finally after all this time have a brand new book in the series, The Lark’s Lament, which was just published last week in hardcover at $24.95, just in time for this event – lucky for us. This book takes the series in a new direction, and finally advances the story. It’s 1204, and the fools are in the south of France, where they get involved in some intrigue involved a troubadour-turned-abbot and some mysterious lyrics. This new book is just as good as its predecessors, and because it's a new setting and situation, you can jump into the series here too.
Whichever one you decide to try, the main thing is that I recommend all of these books very highly. It’s a great series, among my absolute favorites in the genre. I adore these books.