Malvolio’s Revenge: A quick but fun read

Sophie Masson fantasy book reviews Malvolio's RevengeMalvolio’s Revenge by Sophie Masson fantasy book reviewsMalvolio’s Revenge by Sophie Masson

I’ve read plenty of Sophie Masson’s novels and enjoyed them all, but I’m fairly certain that Malvolio’s Revenge may end up being my favourite. Though Masson usually writes straight-out fantasy stories, this is a more of a mystery with a few supernatural trappings thrown in.

The book’s title is a bit misleading, for this book isn’t a sequel to Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. Instead it refers to the title of a play that the travelling troupe of actors who comprise our main characters are performing all around Louisiana. Set primarily in New Orleans in 1910, the story begins on a terribly stormy night when the Trentham Troupe of Players stumble upon an old estate that promises food and shelter.

Unfortunately the mansion is all but ruined, but that it’s called Illyria (the setting of their play) is taken as a good omen — as is the mansion’s occupants: a beautiful Creole girl called Isabelle de Castelon and her nurse, the enigmatic Marie Laroche. Isabelle is a generous host and young Toby Trentham (our protagonist, nephew to the troupe’s leader) is instantly smitten. After watching the play Isabelle comes up with a startling idea: that they all travel to New Orleans together, where her contacts might well secure the troupe a commission in a proper theatre.

Seeing no reason to reject such a promising offer, the troupe set off with Isabelle and Marie in tow. But Toby is certain that there’s more to Isabelle than meets the eye. After hearing about the tragic death of her parents and witnessing her utter a promise to their tomb, he begins to realize that Isabelle has a specific purpose in going to New Orleans. She believes her father was murdered, and now she wants to see justice done.

With the Mardi Gras festivities looming, New Orleans is abuzz with preparations, and Toby has a lot to keep himself busy with. Yet it’s not only Isabelle, but his friend and fellow performer Gabriel Harvey who seems to be keeping secrets. And what is he meant to make of Thomas Nashe, the mysterious newcomer who grafts himself into the company and seems to have a vested interest in what they’re all doing?

According to Masson’s afterword, Malvolio’s Revenge was inspired not only by Twelfth Night, but also Theophile Gautier’s 19th century novel Le Capitaine Fracasse, as well as the city of New Orleans itself. Weaving in bits of history, such as the Jim Crow laws and a few cameo appearances from a very young Louis Armstrong, Masson creates a vivid rendering of New Orleans at the turn of the century and fills it full of fascinating characters: wealthy media moguls, charming albino gangsters, colourful theatre performers… there’s someone new and interesting on every page.

Her prose is always lovely, rich and descriptive without going overboard, and there are a few twists in what’s otherwise a fairly simple mystery. All things considered, it’s a little strange that this story was told from Toby’s point-of-view instead of Isabelle’s, for not only was she a more interesting character, but it was pretty much her story from start to finish. More often than not, Toby is just a witness or aide to her proactivity.

Malvolio’s Revenge — (2005) Young adult. Author’s website: A novel in three acts! It is Christmas Eve 1910, and in the drenched Louisiana countryside, a band of travelling players is struggling to try and find shelter in a massive downpour of rain. They have been trying to tour a once-famous play, Malvolio’s Revenge, a continuation of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, in the glittering city of New Orleans but have had all the theatre doors closed on them; and have attempted to put the play on in the countryside, but have been gulled and swindled at every turn. Then, around the bend of a road, they literally fall over the gatepost of what looks like a derelict plantation mansion, called ‘Illyria’…Only two people are left in Illyria, an old black woman with strange green eyes, called Marie Laroche, and her charge, the last of an old aristocratic French Creole family, the beautiful, confident 16 year old Isabelle de Casteljaloux. They make the players very welcome, and soon propose them a strange but very tempting bargain: they will gain them entry into a New Orleans theatre, in return for going along with the company, and taking part in the staging of Malvolio’s Revenge: but in disguise! And so the stage is set for a wild, fun ride into a dark secret, adventure, comedy, and romance…in an atmosphere redolent of old New Orleans, in the exciting beginning of the jazz area!

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REBECCA FISHER earned a Masters degree in literature at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand. Her thesis included a comparison of how C.S. Lewis and Philip Pullman each use the idea of mankind’s Fall from Grace to structure the worldviews presented in their fantasy series. Rebecca is a firm believer that fantasy books written for children can be just as meaningful, well-written and enjoyable as those for adults, and in some cases, even more so. Rebecca lives in New Zealand.

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One comment

  1. This sounds like a delightful book. Thanks for the review, Rebecca!

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