Reviewed: In the Company of Fools by Tania Bayard

Christine de Pizan Mysteries #3

A baby abandoned in the palace gardens leads scribe sleuth Christine de Pizan into a mystery involving murder, superstition and scandal in fourteenth-century France.

Paris, 1396. Scribe Christine de Pizan is shocked when the Duke of Orleans’ fools find a baby, wrapped in rags and covered in sores, abandoned in the palace gardens. Was there really a wicked plan to substitute the child for the queen’s own baby daughter and blame the Duchess of Orleans, Valentina Visconti? Who would commit such an evil act, and why?

Accused of being a sorceress, Valentina is the victim of much slander and has powerful enemies at the palace, where rumours of witchcraft and superstition run riot. Convinced of the duchess’s innocence, Christine is determined to uncover the truth, and soon makes a number of disturbing discoveries. Could the palace fools be the key to unlocking the mystery?

This novel was an enjoyable 3rd installment in the Christine de Pizan mysteries series. This is meant to be set in the late 14th century, sometime before Christine began writing professionally. Oh, did I not mention de Pizan was Europe’s first professional female author? Way back in the 1400s.
I think I enjoyed the last book more personally, but this was a good continuation of the series in which Christine now has something of a reputation for solving crimes. Christine is again assisted by friends old and some new, this time a literally company of ‘fools’.

What we might call jesters. The Queen of France’s entertainers, who are far from foolish. All the books in this series (3 so far) revolve around the French royal court in some way, and so the characters get caught up with royal intrigues and scandals which adds an interesting flavour to each story. This one concerns the controversial Duchess of Orleans Valentina Visconti.
An Italian family who were something like early forbears of the Medici. Lionel of Clarence, second son of Edward III of England also married into the family and died shortly afterwards. (Some rumours say he was poisoned by her family.)

The mystery is complicated with plenty of twists and turns, but I sort of felt a little short changed at the end when the culprit was revealed. I feel it’s one of the rules of mysteries that the murderer has to be a character who is known or at least, that he sleuth (and so therefore the reader) has met.

Finally, I felt that this novel had one other weakness that came out in the first novel. Christine feels rather too modern for the late 14th century setting. Yes, she was a professional author, and yes she did defend women in some of her books. but not all of her attitudes are related to that.
She totally rejects all beliefs in witchcraft/alchemy etc, and there is no real reason for her to believe as such. I’m surprised she isn’t an atheist as well, but I suppose that would be kind of stretching historical credibility a bit too far.

It’s also very difficult to believe that she would not have had any interest whatsoever in domestic pursuits. If you read her works she clearly believed women should know how to run a household.
Yes, she was unconventional in many ways, but not as much as she is in this book. At times our heroine just feels like a modern person in fancy dress.

Thanks to Severn House for allowing me to read this title through Netgalley. I was not required to write a positive review and all opinions expressed are my own.

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