The Serpent of Venice, Christopher Moore (Morrow)

serpent of venice

What do you get when you stitch OthelloThe Merchant of Venice, and “The Cask of Amontillado” together? Well, you get this rollickin’ adventure in which Pocket, the royal fool introduced in Moore’s Fool (2009), is lured to Venice, where he thinks he’ll be having a fun time with the beautiful Portia, but where three men (including a fella named Iago) are actually planning to murder him. To some, the idea of combining two Shakespeare plays and an Edgar Allan Poe short story might be vaguely chilling. To begin with, Moore, author of such delights as Sacre Blue (2012) and The Stupidest Angel (2004)has to move the events of the plays from the late sixteenth century to the thirteenth to keep the chronology in line with the events recounted in Fool, which means “Amontillado” is moved roughly 500 years back in time. And let’s not forget that the plays are tragedies, whereas this book, which also interpolates elements of King Lear, from which Fool was derived, is a farce. The upshot is, if you’re the kind of reader who insists Shakespeare is untouchable, then this novel will probably annoy you on general principles. On the other hand, if you’re a fan of Moore’s brand of history-mangling humor, you’ll dive right in with a big grin on your face. The grins win in the end.

This review originally appeared in Booklist, February 2014.

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