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Once upon a time the ancient and oh so refined kingdom of Hydrangea was conquered by a Gorgorian Horde...and a rather messy affair it was too. The Old Hydrangean order was no match for the brute strength of this barbarian invasion, and the magic of Hydrangean wizards was more of the over-refined, complex, graceful and lengthy variety than spells of a more practical and effective type.
So, while bits of the slain wizards were chased down and tossed back into the pyre solemnly calling curses down upon the heads of their conquerors, the kingdom was irrevocably claimed by Gudge, fearsome leader of this uncouth horde. Much to the regret of former princess Artemisia, who must now endure a loathsome, coarse, drunken, intellectually challenged, louse-ridden, violent husband as well as a long and difficult pregnancy. Just when poor Queen Artemisia thought that things couldn't get any worse, she gives birth to triplets!
She knows full well that Gorgorian tradition upholds the belief that multiple infants at a birth are a sure sign of adultery, an act of High Treason which would insure her a suitably creative death in which badgers play a significant role. Our clever Queen sends off her faithful and possibly senile servant, Ludmilla, with the infant princess Avena and the younger of two princes, Helianthus, into the forest to be raised by her brother Prince Mimulus, leader of the Hydrangean Resistance. Unfortunately, Ludmilla takes both of the princes instead!
While she cunningly evaded a Gorgorian patrol by claiming the children in her basket were actually Old Hydrangean Royal Weeping Cheeses (it doesn't take much to outwit a Gorgorian), dire misfortune continues to haunt poor Artemisia and her darling triplets. Ludmilla dies, blissfully, before she ever realizes her mistake, or makes it to the secret lair of "the Black Weasel, brave and dashing heroic leader of the Bold Bush-dwellers". As one might expect at this point, Ludmilla got them just far enough away to get the unfortunate princes Really lost. Thus, we find one prince raised by a shepherd, one raised by an escaped Hydrangean wizard, and Avena raised as the bold and reckless Prince Arbol under the nervous watch of her mother.
Will this hopelessly confused Dynastic dilemma ever be untangled? Will the princes ever be restored to their birthright? Will Gudge ever catch on to the fact that Arbol is missing the essential equipment required of most Princes? Should the fierce tempered Arbol herself find out, will she let that stop her from ruling? Will Artemisia carry on through all this anxiety and turmoil without collapsing into a complete nervous breakdown? Will the Bold Bush-dwellers and Prince Mimulus ever leave the safety of the woods long enough to challenge Gorgorian rule? Not Likely...but then again it's never the destination that makes a journey interesting; it's all in how you get there.
Lawrence Watt-Evans and Esther M. Friesner have conspired to bring us a tale of such swashbuckling, magic flinging, inventive, over the top humor that it should be stamped with a safety warning. Perhaps something like, "Warning: This book may cause the reader's sides to split, suffocation from hysterical laughter, or internal damage. It has also been linked with the appearance of laugh lines and loud inexplicable laughter in public places. Read at your own risk!"
Each character is vividly painted for us in utter comical relief. The customs and histories of these two cultures seem as rich, as steeped in tradition, as valid and as outrageously ridiculous as any real nation. While a simple enough tale, like the madcap films of the black and white era, riotous humor and complete chaos seems to be the only constant. I am often dubious of collaborative efforts, but this delightfully silly book is seamlessly written, well paced, and wonderfully told. Positively stuffed with whimsical lines like:
"...and Gudge's first pious act had been to commission one of the court poets to write an epic in which the Gorgorian god Pog, Lord of the Fermented Grain Products, fell madly in love when he first beheld the beautiful Hydrangean virgin goddess Prunella, Lady of the Five Hundred Local Beers." Or
"Every so often the queen would lay the baby down and unwrap it, just to check on whether anything missing had been replaced. She even said a prayer to Uttocari, Goddess of Objects Lost, Purloined, or "Borrowed" by the the Neighbors." Or
"Naaah. Onliest time it's dangerous to eat a brunch is when they hasn't been proper cleaned and cooked." And
"King Pyron the Goosefooted was the only Old Hydrangean king for whom there was documentary evidence to confirm that he had indeed been dropped on his head as a child, and no royal mother in her right mind wished to risk a similar fate befalling her offspring. His abbreviated reign was still spoken of with cold dread as the 'Hundred Days of Metal Implements and Bad Pudding.'"
Perfect for fans of Piers Anthony, Douglas Adams, or Robert Asprin, this is purely a light hearted farce in a fantasy setting, with just enough mayhem to keep you steadily occupied. I often pick this one up when reality begins to weigh me down and always find that it lifts my spirits. If you have been looking for an easy and highly entertaining read then this book is definitely for you. I cannot, however, recommend reading this work in a public area as any efforts to suppress peals of laughter are bound to cause odd looks at the very least.