Tuesday, March 03, 2009

REVIEW: Every Inch A King

Title: Every Inch A King
Author: Harry Turtledove
Genre: fantasy
Price: $25
Publisher: ISFIC Press
ISBN: 978-0-9759156-1-4
Point of Sale: ISFIC Press
Reviewed by: Chris Gerrib

In 1913, Albania was regaining its independence from the failing Ottoman Empire. Allegedly, Otto Witte, a circus performer, managed to convince some local Albanian troops he was the Ottoman prince they had asked to come and be king. He was so convincing, in fact, that he was crowned and ruled as king for five days. When he was found out, Otto fled, taking as much of the royal treasury as he could carry. To his dying days in 1958, Witte stood by his improbable tale, in part because he made a living telling it. In 2005, the science fiction and fantasy author Harry Turtledove was guest of honor at Windycon, a Chicago-area science fiction convention. ISFIC Press, the publishing arm of the convention, had started a tradition of publishing a book by the guest of honor. Out of those two facts, a rollicking and entertaining novel was born, entitled Every Inch A King.

Turtledove tells the story (or a story) of Witte, thinly-disguised as Otto of Schlepsig, and his adventures in “Shqiperi,” a fantasyland version of Albania. In Turtledove’s world, magic has substituted for technology, with, for example, sailing ships relying on weather-wizards to get wind in their sails. Dragons and giant sea serpents roam the Nekemte Peninsula (Balkans) and surrounding waters, making travel interesting, and crystal balls are used in place of telegraphs.

The novel is a very humorous rendition of events, and full of “Easter eggs” for the discerning reader. For example, the three faces of the men on the cover are Harry Turtledove, Steven Silver (chief cook and bottle-washer at ISFIC) and Bob Eggleton, the cover artist. The word “Shqiperi” is Albanian for Albania, and many other such hidden gems can be found. A key part of Otto’s story (both “real” and in the novel) is the enjoyment of the royal harem, and the fictional Otto gets help from a wizard’s potion (a wizard named Zog, same as Albania’s 20th century king). The potion includes a “little blue pill.”

Some of Turtledove’s humor is less subtle. Speaking of the Croatians, who speak a language notably deficient in vowels, Turtledove notes that they hadn’t had a kingdom of their own since they “suffered through their disastrous vowel famine.” Or, speaking of the Tvar, AKA Russian ambassador, “[He] was thinking. It took a while. You could watch the wheels turn, like the ones on a milk wagon pulled by a lazy horse.”

I really could go on for pages, but that’s not fair. Every Inch A King is a wonderful comic novel, and a rarity to boot. Only 1,000 copies were printed, and I am told the only copies still for sale are those signed by the author. So go order a collectable piece of humor today.

RATING 10/10

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