This is the sequel to Moore’s 2009 novel Fool, but only loosely so. The jester Pocket, with his monkey Jeff and his virile giant of an apprentice Drool, land in Venice on a mission for his queen. He is to try and stop the merchants of the city from orchestrating a new crusade in an attempt to profit from it. The mission goes wrong almost immediately, and it then turns into a tale of revenge and intrigue.
Fool was a comedic retelling of King Lear, and this novel takes on The Merchant of Venice, Othello, and Poe’s The Cask of Amontillado in much the same way. He even throws in a wanton sea creature to help it all blend. I haven’t read any of the three source works yet, but that didn’t get in the way of my enjoyment. I know nothing of The Cask of Amontillado, and only have a basic knowledge of the plays, and I never felt like I was in the dark.
For his last few novels, Christopher Moore has been doing an awful lot of research. He spends a few pages at the end of this book discussing how he pulled different elements from each of the source works and what he had to modify to align the two plays, which was actually really interesting, and for Sacre Blue he released a chapter guide on the art and artists he was referencing. It must be tempting, after having done so much research, to cram the novel full of exposition and non-essential references just because you can, but he does an great job of keeping the novel focused on the story and the humour without feeling the need to show off.
The writing style is vaguely Shakespearean, done with an American’s over-the-top idea of a modern English accent (think Dick Van Dyke), and I think that’s what he was trying for. I found it irritating at first, the same as I did in Fool, but eventually found the humour in it. The plot was also all over the place, which was likely a result of having three source stories from which to draw, but all of his books have a little of that. You have to be able to endure juvenile humour (which I love) and meandering plots (which I don’t particularly love) to enjoy his novels.
This isn’t one of his best, but it was still very good. If you’ve been thinking of getting into his novels, I’d start with Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal. It’s a stand-alone story and a fantastic read.