~Queen's Own Fool
Queen's Own Fool by Jane Yolen and Robert Harris is historical fiction at its best. It's the story of Nicola Ambruzzi, the real-life jester for Mary, Queen of Scots. Very little is known about Nicola--but isn't she the type of character that's perfect for a historical novel? The story of Queen's Own Fool is part fiction, part fact--and it's hard to tell where one leaves off and the other begins.
Nicola Ambruzzi, an Italian orphan, is traveling France with her uncle's family, a group of traveling players. They are fortunate enough to land an audience with the new king of France and his wife, Mary Stuart. When Nicola runs into Queen Mary in the castle garden after the performance, the queen is captivated by Nicola's wit and hires ten-year-old Nicola as her personal fool. Nicola and the queen quickly become friends, and it is Nicola alone who can comfort the queen after the loss of her beloved husband Francis.
After Francis dies, the queen must leave France and return to her native Scotland--connected to the French throne only through marriage, she no longer has any need to remain in France. So she sets off for Scotland, accompanied by Nicola and her four ladies-in-waiting (all named Mary, which can be a bit confusing). Scotland welcomes its queen with open arms, but this isn't a happily ever after. A sweet Italian musician (David Rizzio), a thunderous, fiery Protestant reformer (John Knox), a cruel and strict tutor (Madam Jacqueline) and a suave and charming young lord (
John Willoughby Henry Darnley) have yet to meet Mary Stuart and Nicola, and the story becomes more exciting with every page.
This is historical fiction at its best. As I said, it's extremely difficult to tell where fact leaves off and fiction begins. The authors wove history in with their story so expertly that I put down this book knowing far more about Scotland in the 16th century than I had ever hoped to know (and this from a girl who read Dear America's Royal Diaries series when I was in fifth grade as if they were going out of style). I highly recommend this fascinating novel!
9 out of 10 stars. Recommended for ages 12 and up (there are a couple of scenes that might be frightening for younger readers, especially a part about persecution of the Huguenots).