Author: Dan Simmons
Hatchette Audio / 13 hours (unabridged) / 28 February 2003
Oh, to be a silverfish in the library of James Patterson’s diehard fans when they plunge in to The Jester! What they’ve got in their hands is not Alex Cross Visits The Crusades or anything to which they have grown accustomed; this is like nothing ever seen from James Patterson. Such a departure, actually, that it begs the question of which author took the lead on this collaboration. Each reader will have a different answer for that puzzler, but when the results are this impressive, does it really matter?
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Allow me to ignore the story-in-story nature of the novel and concentrate on the travails of Hugh De Luc, crusader, common man, and victim of violence. De Luc, though, is not a man to lie down and give up when faced with tragedy; this is one innkeeper who is going to make the cruel and ruthless men in power wish they never came within a hundred miles of him.
Even in a time when brutality was the norm, the First Crusade stands out for its single-minded savagery. Yet another example of religious fervour taking people in the most horrifying directions, this was perhaps the bloodiest case of tunnel vision in history. In a sweeping display of ethnocentrism (theocentrism?) the Christians were determined to drive the “infidel” Turks out of their holy land and retrieve the priceless icons in the wrong hands. Well, not quite priceless; many will pay a heavy price for this unholy war.
So, how did a simple man like De Luc become the most wanted man in Christendom? Not even he knows. The merciless mission to capture De Luc and retrieve… something of tremendous value is just as mysterious to the reader as to De Luc and those close to him. The Jester holds its secrets like a dead man, keeping us all in the dark until the moment of revelation. Even then, the outcome is far from certain. And the difference between friends and deadly enemies is a gray area that only time will sort out.
Fantasy readers are going to flock to this epic struggle, once they cotton on to the fact that The Jester is so unlike Patterson’s contemporary mysteries. Whether Patterson’s fans will be put off by the grim and realistic setting remains to be seen. Anyone who just enjoys a damn good story should give it a try. Whether in print or on audio (and why, exactly, is an Englishman reading a story about France and its people?) It’s a worthy competitor for your time.
You can’t say this about many books, but it’s safe to say there will be nothing like The Jester gracing bookshelves this year. Unless Andrew Gross breaks out on his own, perhaps…