Every Inch a King
by Harry Turtledove
Cover Artist: Tristan Elwell
Review by Harriet Klausner
Del Rey Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9780345487360
Date: 27 February, 2007 List Price $14.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
Dooger and Clark's Traveling Emporium of Marvels is a third rate circus playing in towns no other circus would want to perform in. At the moment they are in Thasos which belonged to the Hassockian Empire but only changed overlords due to the Nekemte Wars. Otto of Schlepsig works for the circuses as a tightrope walker and trapeze artist. One day after a performance, he sees a copy of the Thasos Chronicle where an article states that Essad Pasha and the Shqiperi people want Prince Kallim Eddin to be their new king. The picture accompanying the article shows the prince is a dead ringer of Otto.
Otto decides that he wants to be king and will get the job by impersonating the prince. He and his best friend, the sword swallower Jim, who has a continual hacking cough, board a ship that has a drunken weatherworker on it. They are unable to get to meet the ship that will take Otto and Jim to his new kingdom since the weatherworker is too drunk to work. They are forced to board a ship of smugglers where they outwit a vampire and a monstrous sea serpent. When he arrives in Shqiperi, he is accepted by Essad Pasha as the prince. He asks for the treasury and the harem to be brought to his palace after he is crowned as king. The ceremony goes off without a hitch but what will happen when his lies are discovered?
Harry Turtledove is so well known as the grandmaster of epic alternative history that it is easy to ignore that he can write straight fantasy novels based on a minor historical tidbit that are quite good with this saga having an alleged claim in pre-WWI Albania. Every Inch a King is a charming whimsical rendition of the Prince and the Pauper except for the fact that the prince knows nothing about the con man. There is a lot of action and just enough magic to give this an otherworldly atmosphere.
Otto is a con man but one who means no harm to anyone. He just wants to be something more than a cut rate circus performer. His actions as the prince and then king are regal and realistic, fooling everyone around him. He is a good monarch to his subjects and works with the scribes (reporters) even when they have a hint that he is not Hallim Eddin. He deals with ambassadors without fumbling the ball. One ambassador threatens to annex a piece of his country but with the help of a powerful wizard he comes up with a game plan to win the war without losing many men. His friend Jim is great in his supporting role as a rational mind who prevents Otto from going off on a wild tangent. Otto is a rogue, a grafter, a thief and a con man but for all his faults he is lovable, kind to his subjects and is a good friend to have as he shares his power, wealth, and harem.
Otto is the narrator who talks in asides to the audience, a technique that the audience will find funny because he amusingly succeeds without jerking the audience out of the storyline. Harry Turtledove should be lauded for this entertaining and enjoyable fantasy that is every bit as good as his large scale alternate histories.