John Morressy,
The Juggler
(HarperTrophy, 1998)

From the compelling first chapter in which a capricious king orders a juggler's hand cut off, to the last, quietly triumphant page, The Juggler is a dark, meticulously detailed, compulsively readable medieval fantasy.

The strongest portion of the book is undoubtedly the first chapter, which has a tone strongly reminiscent of Edgar Allan Poe's quirky, macabre short stories -- "Hopfrog" in particular comes to mind. This is not to say that the rest of The Juggler isn't excellent, because it is. The protagonist, a commoner named Beran, has sold his soul to the Devil (as literal and real a figure in the story as he was in the medieval mentality) to become the greatest juggler in the world. Beran's journeys as a master juggler in the Middle Ages, narrated in almost a picaresque style, are carefully painted and convincing. Additionally, the author's note on the historical accuracy of his novel is both interesting and informative.

The Juggler isn't a perfect book; the romance is a little unconvincing, and the ending is somewhat anti-climactic. However, its surprising originality (considering it has two very overused fantasy elements -- a medieval setting and evil incarnate) more than makes up for its shortcomings. After all, how many medieval books can boast of having a juggler as a main character? The Juggler is not a book for younger teens, but the older teen with any interest in dark fantasy or medieval England will find it to be an engrossing read.

by Jennifer Mo
14 January 2006

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