Thirteenth Night is written as a kind of sequel to Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night with the action taking place some 15 years later. All the characters are present: Viola and Sebastian, Olivia, the Duke, Toby, Andrew, Maria, and Feste who, this time, is the protagonist and narrator of the story. In this sequel and retelling, it is hinted that Feste engineered the original shipwreck for political reasons, on a mission from the Fool’s Guild, a shadowy yet powerful network of court jesters with a mission to prevent the worst kinds of political mistakes.
This was a very clever premise for this debut novel in Alan Gordon’s jester series, and Gordon carries it off well. Malvolio, the fun-hating and much abused steward from Twelfth Night is the prime suspect in the murder of the Duke (not a spoiler, really - we learn of the Duke’s death in the first scene, and suspect murder by page 20), but hasn’t been heard from in 15 years. Feste goes to Orsino to investigate, and is soon joined by another Fool to provide backup.
Despite the fact that Feste, and all the other leading characters, were well acquainted with Malvolio we are meant to believe that Malvolio would be able to disguise himself and escape detection: no less plausible, I guess, than the disguised Viola / Cesario from the original story. So there are suspects aplenty, and Feste has to fumble his way through his investigation.
In all, an enjoyable book on a few levels: the invention of a confederacy of Fools dedicated to preventing political foolery; the character of Feste elevated from a minor role to that of a master agent; and the masterful way in which Gordon maps out the futures of the characters from Twelfth Night.