Fifteen days stand between Danilo and his death. No matter his rank as the heir to the Duchy of Avann, by laying hands on the crown prince of the Westlands, no matter the provocation, he is to be punished by execution. King Hiram, however, upon learning the circumstances, has given Danilo fifteen days to find the words that will move the judicars to mercy. Fifteen days to convince the king and court of a rival kingdom that, even though he beat their crown prince in public rather badly and feels no remorse for it (and would do it again), he doesn’t deserve to die. Also weighing on Hiram’s mind is the fact that his death — no matter how just or how legal by Westlands laws — would certainly cause a war between their two kingdoms and cause countless more men and women to perish.
Prince Henry is vain, spoiled, cruel, and … not too bright. He is just bright enough to know that his father hates him, but not quite clever enough to see that the courtiers and young roustabouts he calls friends laugh at his jokes not because they’re funny, but because he’s the prince. When a badly timed ball at the tennis court caused him some embarrassment, Henry took out his wrath on the young ball boy, breaking several bones in his face and a rib or two. He might have done more damage if it weren’t for the foreign prince who gave him a taste of his own medicine and landed a few telling blows of his own before being pulled off and roughed up by Henry’s followers.
King Hiram has never loved his son, certainly never liked him, and has no desire to kill the charming young Danilo, nor to start a war that, to be honest, his kingdom might not win. He’s tried all his life to be a good king to his people, both in times of war and in times of peace. Now he if only knew how to get himself out of this situation. But the gods are silent, the magic users are helpless, and if Danilo can’t find some convincing reason to circumvent the laws of the Westlands, Hiram will have no choice but to see the young heir dead.
Parody and satire are difficult art forms and comedy is highly subjective. When reading a book that is trying to be funny, you have to read it with a grain of salt and a dash of kindness. If you’re interested in this book, I strongly suggest you download a sample chapter or two before purchase to make certain that you and this book get along. You will either find the writing style whimsical and charming, or, like me, grow tired of it by the second paragraph. Jokes are either run into the ground again and again and again. And again. Or they’re not jokes at all, just a name, like the Wizard of Ahz, mentioned offhand seemingly in the hopes of being clever.
In the first chapter, we are introduced to King Hiram and Roger. Hiram is your standard “retired warrior” king. He is physically fit-ish, gruff, blunt, and not a terribly political person. He enjoys getting rogered by Rodger the rogering rogerer (you’ll get tired of that before the end of the first chapter. Alas, the author doesn’t), thinks about being rogered by Rodger, and when he isn’t thinking about being rogered by Rodger, he’s missing Rodger and his rogering. Hiram’s not a bad man, but he’s dull and barely manages to be a two-dimensional character. He was married to his wife, a queen who wasn’t so much evil as petty and hateful, and had as much interest in her death as he did her life. He doesn’t spare much more thought to his son than he did his wife, other than to regret he wasn’t a better father. Hiram would like to avoid killing Danilo, but … that’s as far as it goes. He doesn’t try to help the young man, doesn’t think to change the law, doesn’t do anything but feel wistfully a little put out that he can’t save the young man with the lovely, pert ass from being killed. Oh well, alas, alack and come here, Rodger.
Speaking of Rodger, we learn about as much about him as we do anyone else. He’s tallish, male, and likes rogering the king. He’s good at dressing the king, better at undressing the king, and phenomenal at rogering the king. The two of them have been together for a time; they’re familiar with one another, but I have no idea when they came together, or how. I only know that Rodger is his manservant slash bedmate and Hiram is personally convinced that Rodger has some fey magic.
Danilo is a young man who wanted to visit the neighboring kingdom, saved a child, and now has to save himself. He visits every shrine, praying for help and getting none. He visits the Wizard of Ahz, and every witch and mage and crone and shaman in the city, only to get the same help: none. None of them have the words he needs to save himself. However, Danilo is helped by a strange, hooded figure who promises to help him if Danilo will marry him and perform one task by the end of 28 days. Danilo agrees, they marry, and off he goes to save his life.
There’s a brief fairy tale and a blatantly telegraphed ‘twist’ that manages to save the day and save Danilo. Then Henry reveals his own secret and everything is all roses and splendour, except that Danilo till owes a boon to his new husband. Anatol, an old man, has a secret of his own, but it’s not one he can reveal. He has to trust that Danilo will find the answer to the unspoken riddle before it’s too late. And that’s pretty much all there is.
I have long been a fan of Aspirin and Pratchett. Fractured fairy tales and reinterpretations of familiar fantasy tropes are a favorite of mine, and, it seems, of Westfalls. Unfortunately, our senses of humor do not seem to mesh. We’re treated to a few attempts at Pratchett’s modern insertions — such as the IPS or the Imperial Postal Service — but it never goes beyond name dropping. There’s no commentary, no purpose, with no punchline to the joke, and no real setup for it, either. It’s just an offering, waiting for us to find it … funny? But there’s no indication it’s supposed to be humorous.
Likewise, the Wizard of Ahz, the Red Queen of Dysnae who liked having people beheaded, or Prince Sharazin who told stories. The names are there, proudly presented to us, waiting to be noticed, but there’s nothing to them and no point other than an apparent attempt to be clever. Other books have made a similar mistake, just listing names or references in the hopes that seems to hope that because another book did much the same and it was funny there, it will be funny here, right? But without a being part of an actual joke or having any purpose within the story itself, just writing down a name isn’t enough to do anything other than remind me of other, better books.
The writing in the first chapter is — to me — painful. Again, humor is highly subjective. Other people may love the humor in this book. The writing did calm down and get more readable as the book went on. As with most fairy tales, none of the characters had any personality. They were tokens or tropes, just cardboard cutouts there to show us where a character ought to be.
Humor requires a light touch, I think, but the things in this book that are supposed to be funny are driven into the ground over and over until they’re no longer jokes. To be honest, I simply did not find this book funny. Not once. I found it cringing and painful and a chore to read. I’m sorry, but I cannot recommend any part of this book.