This book deserves six stars.
I can add "Folly of the World" to the list of books that forever change how I view them. I've been a tremendous fan of Jesse Bullington since his profane (in every sense), crazy, and wholly original debut, The Sad Tales of the Brothers Grossbart. I was also blown away by Enterprise of Death, a European romp centered on lesbian necromancer who just wants to be loved. But it's Folly of the World where Bullington brings together several motifs from his previous works and creates a tremendously original, shockingly brilliant, and ultimately deeply poetic novel. The profanity and vulgarity are gratefully back as are central characters with serious psychiatric problems. There's a psychopath, a schizophrenic, and a misanthropic urchin girl who needs a new psychiatric condition to describe her levels of distrust. It's the relationship between the schizo and the urchin (and it's not what you think) that brings this beyond the dark historical fantasy that is Bullington's strength. It is almost magical how Bullington refuses to soften the characters but still lets them grow, though, to be honest, it's more Bonsai growth than redwood. I think it's a real tribute to Bullington that he can take two fairly despicable characters and let them become rootable (likeable might be too far, but being honest, I ended up liking them both tremendously). I can't describe how he weaves the profane with violent while still producing a thematically dense work about relationships, socioeconomic status, place, time, and so much more, but I know he did it and I feel better to have read it.
I would be remiss if I didn't give some huge props for the historical treatment as well. There are little details here (like dye-making) that are often overlooked, but these details give an immersive quality where it felt like I was actually in Holland and Zealand in the 1400's.