Otto of Schlepsig is a humble acrobat in the even more humble Dooger and Clark’s Travelling Emporium of Wonders. The only piece of luck to come Otto’s way is a chance resemblance to a minor royal prince, Halim Eddin of the Hassockian Empire, who has invited to be the King in the neighbouring country of Shqiperi. The Shqiperians, being an unruly lot and prone to murderous revenge killing, has long since lost their own royalty. Accompanied only by the coughing sword-swallower Max, Otto sets off to perform the con of his life, becoming a king. On the way, they have to battle pirates, smugglers, vampires and dragons. This is only the beginning of their difficulties. Otto’s rule is a constant attempt to stay one step ahead of his court, the magical paparazzi and the limits of his libido.
Harry Turtledove is well known for his alternate history stories. In ‘Every Inch A King’, he reveals a talent for comedy as well. There are elements of alternate history here. The world is similar to the Middle East, set in the early 20th century. Many of the countries are recognisable. Albion is clearly England and The Dual Monarchy is identifiable as the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The major difference is the use of magic and existence of magical creatures. Sea-serpents and vampires are here, as well as wizards. Magic is used for such everyday things as powering sailing ships and telegraphing information. Turtledove uses his skill for historical accuracy to give the story a rich and detailed texture, the writing style is clear and well paced.
The biggest joy in the book is the sharp and funny dialogue. The insults and bartering are pretty much the same thing and provided plenty of laugh out loud moments. Fans of Turtledove’s ‘Worldwar’ and ‘Southern Victory’ series will recognise a much lighter and comedic style here.
The story reaches a satisfying conclusion and herein is its only slight negative aspect, because it is such a complete and well-rounded story, this can be our only visit. Do you ever have the mounting sense of sadness as the sheaf of pages in your right hand gets smaller and smaller?
Overall, this is a fine book. It will appeal to fantasy reader, of course, but it is worth a look if you want an amusing and entertaining story. Humour is a notoriously subjective thing. We have all probably told a joke only to have it fall flat. Recommending a book on the strength of its comedy is perhaps risky, in this case it is worth a try.
(pub: Del Rey/Ballantine Books. 297 page enlarged paperback. Price: $14.95 (US), $19.95 (CAN). ISBN: 0-345-49736-0)
check out website: www.delreybooks.com