Sebastian Darke: Prince of Fools is an awful thing to realise you spent six quid on.
At first, I thought it was a Musicians of Bremen plot, which seemed interesting. You know, a group of people who set off to make their fortunes, then get sidetracked into something better and settle down together happily.
The dialogue and characterisation was weak, and there's occassional Drawings from the Uncanny Valley, but I kept reading because I thought this was just a consequence of the fairy tale plot.
I was, of course, wrong. It quickly took a sharp right turn into cliché. They meet a spoiled princess, who reforms in .3 seconds. She has an evil uncle, who even thinks about how fun it is to be evil, who is trying to kill her. The heroes get blamed for her absence, she's sold into slavery, they rescue her, she gives a speech, rallying the commonfolk, and takes things back.
More about the heroes in a moment. Let's first talk about enemies By legal requirement in Philip Caveney's world, anyone evil must be described as being big and having a beard. The beard is best described every single sentence. For example:
There was a long silence while the men appraised each other. Then the bearded man stepped forwards, his sword raised. Cornelius waited, his expression calm. The man launched an attack, and Cornelius performed that lazy, almost imperceptable flick of the wrist. His opponent took a couple more steps forward, his eyes staring straight ahead, a bright pool of blood blossoming on his chest. Then he missed a step and went tumbling down the staircase.
Another, surprisingly similar one:
There were shouts of encouragement from Red Beard's companions and he looked around them for moral support, before shrugging his shoulders, hefting his huge double-handed sword, and stepping forward to meet Cornelius... The manling gave an almost imperceptable flick of his wrist, the silver blade blurred into motion and the big man grunted in surprise, clutching at his stomach.
And a third:
The bearded man and Cornelius stood in the dimly lit barn staring at each other.... The bearded man lunged forward, his sword raised to strike, but Cornelius parried the blow with his own blade and then performed a quick somersault up onto the tabletop... he intercepted a second blow and ran the bearded man through.
The heroes, meanwhile? A hairless dwarf with a baby-like features. A half-elf jester (OMG hated because of his half-breed status!) with empathetic powers to see the truth about people's character that strangely only ever kicks in when plot convenient, and otherwise fails. A talking buffalope (Why, why did I read past that word?). And a spoiled princess who becomes unspoiled in three pages, then is unable to do anything else but have the narrator preach at her for the rest of the book. Because, you know, the reader might not realise slavery is wrong, or that, um... alright, I'm not quite sure what lesson she learns from seeing people squabbling over bread while she thinks of the dinners back at the palace she didn't eat, and which in a working palace would have been happily eaten by the servants. But I suppose that the author had a child who wouldn't eat his vegetables, and needed a way of lecturing him.
In the end, the princess rejects the jester so that she can make a diplomatic alliance by marriage (people still do that plot?) and there's a deus ex machina map found. Both are awful writing to allow a sequel on the high seas. I'm sure there will be lots of Cornelius making almost imperceptible flicks of his wrist which kill bearded bearded bearded pirates. However, funnily enough, I won't be reading it
Avoid this book at all costs.