Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Queen's Own Fool

Queen's Own Fool

Jane Yolen , Robert Harris
Historical Fiction
For ages 12 and up
Penguin, 2001   ISBN: 978-0698119185

Nicola Ambruzzi, orphaned, unloved and unwanted, is performing for the King and Queen of France with her uncle and cousins, the Troupe Brufort. Not very skilled at tumbling and dancing Nicola ends up using her quick wit and clever sense of humor when in the presence of the queen. Nicola so impresses Queen Mary that the Queen asks the girl to join her court as her Fool. So, Nicola, also called La Jardiniere, soon finds herself living in the strange world of the royal court of Queen Mary.

Though she now has a roof over her head, food in her belly, and pretty dresses to wear, Nicola finds that court life has many drawbacks. There are many rules to learn, difficult courtiers to live with, and the endless moving from palace to palace to get used to. There is also the loneliness to get used to, for Nicola has few friends and allies.

Over time Nicola gets closer to the Queen and “the four Maries,” four girls with the same name who came from Scotland to be ladies-in-waiting to Queen Mary. When religious strife causes political problems and violence, they seek each other out for comfort. Later, when the king dies and Queen Mary is widowed, the four Maries and Nicola accompany the Scottish Queen to her “new” kingdom. Nicola becomes not only Queen Mary’s fool, but also her friend and the one who reminds Mary that she too “is mortal” and who tells Mary the truth when others tell her lies and deceive her.

Nicola not only tells the truth to her mistress but she also is true in her loyalty. In this she never wavers. For those of us who know Mary’s fate, Nicola’s determination to support her queen has its sadness, and yet we cannot help believing that a woman who could inspire so much love and support must have been kind and must have had a generous spirit despite her weaknesses and faults.

Using rich and highly descriptive language which both delights and horrifies, the authors transport us to and time and place when one could never be sure what would happen next. The tragedy that became Mary Queen of Scots life is portrayed with delicacy and poignancy. This is certainly a volume that will delight those who enjoy historical fiction.