Mimus, written by Lilli Thal, translated by John Brownjohn.
Lilli Thal has a masters degree in medieval history, architecture and art and her background and research is obvious in this dark tale of war, treachery and foolery. The novel was triggered by Thal finding in an inventory of one royal household expenditure this entry: “Two iron neck bands, one for the Duchess’ monkey, and another for the female jester Belon ...” Thal's kingdoms are exactly realised, her castle accurately and atmospherically described and her characters lovingly drawn.
This story examines friendships, status and the human will to survive. At its centre is a masterful reversal of roles which forges a prickly but tender friendship between two characters who would normally never be thrown together into such interdependent intimicay.
But Thal places this mentor/student relationship within the context of a fast-moving suspenseful story which can't fail to grip a reader. (I nearly left my wallet on the plane because I was trying to read the last pages before we had to disembark.)
The characters from the castle's underbelly are as heartbreaking as the lives they endure but Thal is too much the historian to judge her hierarchical society from her own contemporary context. Her characters learn from history, but they are not revolutionaries even though the words of a fool determine the fate of a king. Small gestures of friendship are more impportant than grand operatic flourishes and it is in these subtle revelations and nuances that Thal creates a far richer, more complex and engrossing narrative than much action-fantasy.
I loved this book! (And, woot! woot! the darkly beautiful cover is by an Australian illustrator.