With a wounded leg, a new name, and a new wife, Lady Viola, in drag as his manservant and apprentice Claudius, Theophilos, the Fool of Thirteenth Night (1999) leaps once more into the 13th-century fray at the Guild of Fools’ bidding, this time to investigate the mysterious disappearances of six fellow fools in Constantinople. When initial clues lead him and Viola into the much grander arena of imperial politics and assassination plots, it takes all their collective charm and acrobatic skill to save their own skins. The anachronistically liberated Viola/Claudius, in and out of women’s weeds, comes into her own at juggling, tumbling, and weaponry, and eventually earns her stripes. But Feste/Theophilos greets treachery and even an old flame with a macho blend of bloodthirsty athletics and puerile wit utterly foreign to the Feste of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. The idea of an international underground league of jesters-cum-sleuths is an intriguing one, but having a Fool as hero obliges any author to reproduce verbatim the verbal pyrotechnics we expect from such a paragon. It’s here that Gordon’s conceit founders most disappointingly: His repartee goes for the cheapest available riposte and the pun of least resistance, depriving readers of the pleasures of more subtle double-entendre and paradox. On such slender evidence of wit, his hero’s self-congratulatory air soon becomes obnoxious.
A smattering of geography and an extensive warts-and-all cast can’t save Theophilos’ second outing from mediocrity. The jester leaps in, all right, but he falls disappointingly flat.