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Deborah Ellis, the bestselling author of The Breadwinner and Parvana's Journey, reaches back to the 14th century for a haunting story about the survival of joy in the midst of human misery. Set in 1348, the year the Black Death first swept through France, A Company of Fools is vividly narrated by a young choirboy at the Abbey of St. Luc, near Paris. Quiet and sickly, Henri has been with the monks since he was 5 years old, when it became apparent that his sea-captain father was not coming back. "I'd spent all my life around choirs and music," he says, "and the sound of yet another boy raising his voice in song should have done nothing to me." But from the moment Henri hears the voice of Micah, his orderly life is never the same again.
Rescued from the gallows and brought to the abbey by a wandering Brother, Micah is a coarse, self-aggrandizing street urchin who sings like an angel. He and Henri become friends, and before long the two are performing together in one of the more bizarre theatre troupes to emerge out of the plague years. St. Luc's "Company of Fools" is supposed to make the sick laugh, to release plague victims from their pain and suffering for a few precious moments of joy. But when the crowds of Paris become convinced that Micah is a saviour whose singing can cure the Black Death, even the sheltered world of the abbey begins to crumble.
Ellis brings to her polished fourth novel the political awareness and flashes of wry humour that made her two novels about Taliban-era Afghanistan so popular with middle readers. With its accessible prose style and rich evocation of daily life in the Middle Ages, A Company of Fools offers a wonderful introduction to the pleasures of historical fiction. (Ages 9 to 13) --Lisa Alward
Gr. 5-8. The voice of Henri, a choir student in the Abbey of St. Luc in 1348, is clear, thoughtful, and sweet as he chronicles the events of the previous year, when the Black Death came to France and when Micah came to the abbey. Brother Bartholomew is always bringing odd things back from his travels, like the muddy stick that became a rose bush. He brings filthy, noisy Micah too; the boy can sing like an angel. Henri, quiet, bookish, and in love with the order and rule of the abbey, is astonished by Micah, who does as he pleases. Then comes the plague, and Paris is no longer a place of bright wonders. Micah and Henri hatch the idea of singing to cheer the populace, so they become the Company of Fools, providing a respite from the constant funeral dirges. What happens to Micah's song, and to Henri, makes a vivid chronicle of monks, good and bad, and intentions, good and bad, set in the horrific context of a plague year. Quicksilver language and strong imagery propel a powerful historical tale. GraceAnne DeCandido
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