Mimus - Lilli Thal (translated from the German by John Brownjohn)

"The jester's peculiar nature," Mimus told him. "He's nothing. Neither this nor that, neither fish nor flesh, neither man nor beast, neither God's nor the devil's..."

This is the sort of book which, upon first glance, I probably would have shelved with fantasy books, but it doesn't really belong there. The story takes place in a medieval land, and most stories in these settings that I've read have some element of the fantastic: dragons, wizards, fairies, trolls. But not Mimus. Though the characters in the book tell each other folk tales, their world is definitely more realistic, as you might expect from somebody with "a master's degree in medieval history, art, and archeology."

I don't know much about the life of the nobility or how jesters were treated, but Thal's tale really brings you into this world in a way that's believable (whether or not it's accurate, which I haven't the slightest idea, since I don't have a degree in medieval things). There are kings and counts, chancellors and chamberlains, bestiaruses and scullions and ladies-in-waiting.

Young Prince Florin is the crown prince of Moltovia, which has been at war with neighboring Vinland for years. Through a series of tricks, he is captured and forced to become the apprentice of Mimus, Vinland's court jester. Everything he has is stripped of him, including his identity, as he is forced to do acrobatic tricks, sing coarse songs, and entertain the guests of his enemy. In this world, jesters are treated as mere beasts, valued for their amusement but otherwise despised and ostracized.

Over time, Florin develops a relationship with Mimus, but can never entirely understand him. Of course, there's plenty of intrigue, too: a plot to rescue Florin and the other captives is slow coming but has a terrific finale.

It's an enchanting book and drew me in, although I found Florin to be pretty dull and dim-witted, particularly compared to the sharp-tongued Mimus. His temper gets the best of him all too often and he makes brash decisions (like beating Vinland's king at chess) which result in severe punishments. Aside from that, though, there are some great characters (Benzo the scullion, for one) and it's worth reading.

Fed to jonathan's brain | March 12, 2008 | Comments (0)


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