The thing about reading Dumas is that his novels are such page-turners that I just can’t stop. After dispatching La Reine Margot last weekend I immediately turned my attention to the epic 100-chapter Chicot De Jester, also known as La Dame de Monsoreau, and the second in the Last Valois trilogy. You know a book is good if they’ve already made a movie about it by 1913. That’s the silent era, and those old cameras weren’t easy to carry around. Clearly, somebody gave a shit 
This picks up after Charles IX has died and been succeeded by his weak-willed mummy’s boy brother Henri. The Protestant king Henry of Navarre has escaped back to his lands  with his wife, and Catherine De Medici mostly takes a back-seat, feigning disinterest in politics. So although the plot continues to concern the travails of the king of France in keeping hold of his throne against usurpers, it’s a whole new cast of characters.
Foremost amongst these is Chicot, Henri’s best friend and confidant who steers him to safety and nudges him away from all the blunders he’d otherwise make . Chicot is a sharp-witted, outspoken court jester but also a good swordsman and bold cavalier – he’s a well-written hero who is easy to get behind. The other protagonist is Count De Bussy, the nation’s bravest swordsman and key protector of the Duke D’Anjou . The latter is the primary conspirator against the king, and thus Chicot and Bussy are soon at odds.
Volume one in the trilogy, La Reine Margot, was a dark, bleak book with vicious murders and nihilistic plotting. In contrast, Chicot De Jester has a more upbeat, adventurous tone despite also dealing with plenty of chicanery and isn’t shy to pile up the bodies. I won’t spoil the plot but the key threads are as follows:
- A beautiful young lady is chased by the treacherous Duke D’Anjou and his black-hearted henchman Monsoreau, who each betray the other to kidnap and force her into marriage. Bussy gets involved as her gallant and tries to outwit them to free her. This thread is mostly about gallantry and romance.
- Chicot’s friend, a drunken faithless monk called Gorenflot, is knee-deep in a conspiracy to overthrow Henri III and Chicot must quash the plot without endangering his friend (or even letting him know what’s going on). This thread is mostly espionage and misdirection, not unlike a modern spy thriller.
- The Duke D’Anjou’s four loyal retainers are at the throats of the king’s four favourites, with periodic ambushes, insults, and then finally a big pre-arranged duel. This is rather like The Three Musketeers.
It’s a book of epic scope so there’s lots more in there too. I read this one across five evenings, knocking out twenty chapters at a clip after coaching my residential all day. It seemed like every scene had characters quaffing wine and eating repasts, which played havoc with my own diet – whenever I read about characters eating and drinking I wish to do so myself. It’s a miracle I’ve not become addicted to wine after reading so much Dumas.
I found this book to be beautifully plotted and quite exceptional in how it switched up the pacing, tone, and focus between the various sub-plots. I felt like I was watching a master story-teller at work and at no point during the one-hundred chapters did I ever feel like putting it aside. Chicot De Jester is a real gem, and while not quite matching The Count Of Monte Cristo or The Three Musketeers, it’s only one notch below. I’m very glad I read it and can’t wait for the story to wrap up in volume three.
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 Rather more of a shit than they gave to holding off the Huns a year later, it seems.
 Though he does occasionally pop up incognito in Paris, plotting a return for the throne.
 Jimmy The Jester in his role to King Nick of Hampstead, you could say
 According to his Wikipedia he was also a bisexual nonce so I no longer feel sad about how the story turns out for him. Fortunately, Dumas doesn’t even hint at either shirt-lifting or pillow-biting.