Review: 'The Prince of Knaves', by Alflor Aalto
Note: This book deals with homoerotic themes and desctiptions [sic.] of erotic acts. (publisher’s advisory)
Prince Natier of Llyra, heir to the throne, is a spoiled brat. As far as King Rasdill is concerned, Natier can do no wrong.
Every night, Natier sneaks out into the city; there, he takes on the persona of Rivard, a slightly more mild-mannered fox. As Rivard, Natier is able to do all the things that would not become a prince -- he goes to brothels, helps a local gang of thieves pull off robberies, and gets drunk off his tail on mead. (back-cover blurb)
The Prince of Knaves gets off to a good Furry start. There are a fox king and prince, a cougar catamite, an otter bath attendant, two bear guards, a raccoon exchequer, and a squirrel secretary, in just the first five pages.
But – EVERY NIGHT the prince sneaks into the city, disguises himself as a commoner, spends the night in drunken revelry, even helps a local gang of thieves to pull off robberies, and neither his royal father nor any of the palace servants suspect anything? (No wonder he sleeps all morning, every day.)
(Natier is being groomed by a raccoon servant for a private dinner party.)
‘Very good.’ Natier patted him on the back. ‘What is your name again? I forget.’
‘Werill, Your Highness.’ The raccoon bowed elegantly and smiled.
‘Ah, yes.’ Werrill was the one servant whom Natier refused to mistreat. He’d helped the prince on many occasions in the past and was an invaluable ally. ‘Very good, Werill, please go make dinner preparations.’ (p. 12)
(It is not clear whether Natier has really forgotten Werill’s name or he is only pretending to be an effete aristocrat. If the raccoon has helped the prince in intimate situations on many occasions in the past, it seems unrealistic that Natier would even feign forgetting his name. He is pretending to be lazy and spoiled, but not a simpleton.)
Natier’s latest homosexual lover tries to assassinate him in what is clearly part of a large plot to take over the kingdom. Natier flees, after learning that he is supposed to have tried to kill the king. He poses as Rivard full-time and asks Saaron, a disreputable wolf who knows his secret double life, to get him a job in Llyra’s lower-class dockside district.
Over the next few days, while Rivard works quietly at the shipbuilding establishment of Master Kaardis, an old cougar, it is announced that Natier grievously wounded King Rasdill before escaping, that the king is incommunicado under medical treatment, and that Riius, the squirrel Royal Secretary is running the kingdom while the king is recovering; including ordering a massive manhunt for Natier. Riius is obviously high in the conspiracy, but Natier doubts that the ineffectual squirrel could be its leader. Is Riius just a figurehead for the real mastermind?
Natier/Rivard learns that whoever is behind the plot also is trying to get Llyra into a war with neighboring Aarya. Since Rivard has a reputation for working with thieves, Saaron also gets him a nighttime job in the gang of Zak, a rabbit who has been hired by a mysterious boss to carry out thefts that can be blamed on influential Llyran noblemen who are opposed to the war with Aarya. Rivard uses his position in Zak’s gang to sabotage the thefts, delaying the war. During the day, Rivard’s shipbuilding job alongside the young otter Samrin develops into a friendship that turns into a deep gay romance.
It seems a strange coincidence that the novels By Sword and Star and The Prince of Knaves have been published almost simultaneously. Both can be summarized as “a handsome prince, who has been neglecting his rank to associate with the commoners, escapes when plotters overthrow his father and frame him as the assassin. Alone, he must foil the usurpers to save the kingdom.”
Aside from that basic plot, the two novels are very different. Tiran in By Sword and Star escapes openly and leaves Silverglen to find allies to help his people fight the arrogant usurpers. Natier in The Prince of Knaves stays in Llyra in disguise at first to plot against the usurpers who are posing as the legitimate government. Sword is a traditional Ruritanian romance for all ages, while Knaves has many homoerotic scenes. The whole of Chapter 10 is little more than a steamy bedroom tryst between Rivard and Samrin.
The Prince of Knaves is smoothly written, fast-moving, full of action and intrigue and 18th century-style naval battles. But the plot seems very superficial. Natier is introduced as such a hedonist, hating the duties of aristocracy and preferring to live incognito as a commoner, that it is unconvincing for him to work dangerously in disguise to restore his father’s government. As someone whom all the authorities are trying to kill, he is too quick to trust strangers with his real identity. His efforts to foil the thieves from within their gang, without arousing their suspicion, seem too easily successful. He works all day in the shipyard, spends all night in the thieves’ gang – when does he have the time (or the stamina) for his extended, graphic gay lovemaking? (He is tired after Chapter 10.)
Rabbit Valley’s proofreading could be improved. One typographical error is in the publisher’s advisory above. Zak is usually spelled with one ‘k’, but sometimes with two. A list of other misspellings would be pedantic. There are also missing words; “… they lost track your family …” (p. 396). None of these are serious, but they become annoying. A real title page, and a dated publication statement rather than the bare © 2012 would be nice, too.
On the whole The Prince of Knaves is an enjoyable read. It can also stand as a learning experience for both Alflor Aalto and for Rabbit Valley’s book publishing.