Lady Fortune is a humorous change from the usual dark, Gothic-style historical I've come to expect (and enjoy) from Anne Stuart. This witty medieval romp features the most unusual hero I've come across in a long time. Nicholas Strangefellow is a court jester, or fool.
The Earl of Fortham is once again to be married and King Henry III has the perfect wedding present in mind. He will loan his fool to Fortham Castle, to make the newlywed's first few months of marriage more entertaining.
But Henry has an ulterior motive for his curious gift. Hugh of Fortham is in possession of a solid gold, jewel encrusted chalice, known as the Blessed Chalice of the Martyred Saint Hugelina the Dragon. King Henry covets the sacred relic and he intends for Nicholas to steal it.
Now, Nicholas is not your typical fool. Although he dresses the part in colorful, mis-matched rags, wears bells on his sleeves and often speaks in rhyme; he's handsome and quite a hit with the ladies at court, especially with the King's sister. We soon realize that there's more to Nicholas than meets the eye.
As Nicholas travels to Fortham Castle, he is joined by the bride's daughter, Lady Julianna of Moncrieff. Lady Julianna is a recent widow, although not an unhappy one. Wed at only eleven years of age, she was ill-used by her elderly husband, Victor of Moncrieff, for ten long years. Unfortunately, Victor's death has left her homeless and at the
mercy of a mother she hasn't seen since she was forcibly carried away ten years earlier.
Along the way they are joined by Brother Bart and Father Paulus, the abbot of Saint Hugelina. Father Paulus is evil personified. But during an age when incurring the displeasure of a member of the clergy could be enough to be accused of witchcraft, no one is foolhardy enough to challenge his authority.
All parties have come together ostensibly for the wedding, but they really have stealing the chalice in mind. At this point, the book seems rather like one of those old black and white comedies where one party steals the chalice and then returns to discover someone else has stolen it from them. It sounds slapstick and not at all my usual type of story. But it was so well done, it kept me reading late into the night.
My biggest concern was the relationship between Julianna and Nicholas. For some reason, I never felt truly engaged in their romance. Nicholas is a multi-layered character and he seemed to have depths that were never fully explored. Sometimes, it made it difficult to see why Julianna, who appeared more one-dimensional, was the perfect fit for him.
The secondary romance between Hugh and Julianna's mother, Isabeau, sometimes overshadowed the relationship between Julianna and Nicholas. Hugh and Isabeau's alliance was captivating and touching. There were several occasions throughout the course of the book that I found myself wishing their story had been
Overall, Lady Fortune has a fairytale quality that is unlike anything I've read by Anne Stuart. As much as I enjoy her "darker" stories, Lady Fortune is a whimsical tale that is a pleasure to recommend.