I eagerly picked up this novel in a pre-publication galley because I was such a huge and surprised fan of "The Fool's Tale." I was both happy to re-encounter Galland's quick and smart prose, and surprised by how different this novel is. It's less dark, ultimately, than her first novel, but quicker, odder, and more irreverent. If "The Fool's Tale" was how people coped with the various political and personal rules of life among the medieval nobility, this is a book about how people -- or, one brilliant person -- goes about subverting it. Because of that, it has an element of the fantastic: surely, no one Back Then was ever as resourceful, clever, wise and ultimately powerful as the minstrel Jouglet. But by the end of the book, it doesn't matter, just as it doesn't matter that there's never been a spy as good as James Bond. In both cases, though, you fondly hope there were.
Once again, Galland writes a historical romance that's safe for people who hate historical romances. And she does more than that: not only is this not about virtuous knights and shy maidens in castles, it's about people who laugh at those cliches, and spend their lives doing their best to escape the restrictions imposed by them. Among other things, in a world in which everyone, and everybody, is restricted as to who they can be, what they can do, even who they are allowed to speak to, Galland creates someone who achieves something like complete freedom. You end up impressed, and even envious.
I'm not giving it five stars, by the way, only because in the end I still preferred The Fool's Tale, because I personally tend towards the dark. But this is a great read, and will keep Galland's growing legions of fans happy until her next book.