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.)
Las Vegas, NV, Rabbit Valley Comics, March 2012, trade paperback $20.00 (406 pages + map).
(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.
About the authorFred Patten — read stories — contact (login required)
a retired former librarian from North Hollywood, California, interested in general anthropomorphics
I feel I should point out, though, that technically, Tiran in By Sword and Star isn't framed as the assassin. Tiran is hunted, of course, but only as the heir to the throne would be.
To start off, I certainly agree with the issue you took in regards to better proofreading. (Although this isn't nearly as bad as a number of other books I have read over my years in the fandom. In fact, there are some very esteemed furry authors out there (without naming names) whose books have considerably more typos than Mr. Aalto's. All that said, there is still no excuse for having those typos.)
But this is not why I wrote in.
I must say that I completely fail to understand your comments regarding the book's plot. You called it superficial and asked a number of questions, some of which were very palpably sarcastic. It seems to me that you have missed quite a few parts of the book where your questions would have been answered. The prince stayed behind because he was smart enough to realize that running would only be worse for him in the end. He talks about this in the very beginning, as I recall. He has no wish to help his father or to restore the kingdom. He just wants to find the king to get him to testify on his behalf. That's it. It is only later that he realizes how much his father means to him. On top of that, it is in his character. Adventure and danger arouse him. I believe this fact is mentioned in the very first chapter. Aside from that very explicit mention, remember how he talks to Saaron about his near-death experience? He does so with glee.
Similarly, there is a very good (and clever, in my opinion) reason for why a lot of Rivard's capers are so easy to pull. I won't reveal it here because I don't wish to spoil things, but it has a certain something to do with luring that young fox to a certain place.
You also appear to have missed a scene towards the end of the book where Rivard and his father have a heart to heart. Again, I don't wish to spoil much for those who haven't read, but there is a reason his father does not notice Rivard's frequent treks into the city.
I also see here that you question the prince's stamina. It's all in the youth, my friend. College was a long, long time ago for me, but I clearly recall being able to stay up all night at some party or another, tending to my girlfriend after said party, and then waking up for class at 8, only to rinse and repeat such events the very next night. I couldn't tell you where all that energy is now.
I wish to stress that I mean absolutely no offense by any of this, but nearly every question you have asked is spelled out quite clearly within the book. I understand you probably have to review these novels quickly, but not giving a title the justice it deserves is kind of unfair, don't you think? Opinion is one thing, and you are most certainly entitled to yours, but when you sarcastically ask questions that have been answered in black-on-white within the book, that doesn't look very good for those of us who have also read it. Worse yet, those who haven't yet read will assume that this truly is the level of plot in the book. Someone who doesn't know better would call it slanderous, but I understand that such is the bane of reviews. There is no way to write one without interjecting certain bias. Maybe your bias is against new authors. I do also (and perhaps however) wish you had been more fair.
Am I saying Prince of Knaves is the greatest piece of literature ever created? No. Among other things, the errata need to be dealt with, it needs a better cover, et cetera. But the plot is absolutely top-shelf. It is thoroughly explained and thought out. The characters are very real, and their emotions and motivations are realistic. In fact, many of the high points of the book were completely skimmed over in this review. The touching romance, the tearful confessions, the conflicts, the friendships, the way only a few tiny strings were left at the end for a segue into the probable sequel (as opposed to many books which scream sequel far too loudly for their own good). In my opinion, this book is masterfully written, and not just as a first novel or as a furry novel. (I do have some critical comments of my own, but that is not why I wrote in.)
You could absolutely disagree with that, but it seems many of the points you use to defend your opinions can be refuted with actual passages from the book. I don't wish to tell you how to do your job; please don't take this for me doing so. You have lots of these reviews under your belt and are clearly very experienced. But I also haven't read a great many of the books which you have reviewed, so I have prior taken your reviews at face value. This is a book I have actually delved into, and I am severely disappointed with the lack of justice I see in this review.
I must return to work, so I will end here. I will finish by saying this (TL;DR): I hope the people who read this review will take it with a grain of salt or maybe two. This book isn't pure perfection, but it has a great many merits, and I am disappointed those merits aren't given more light and recognition. I have read the comments on the publisher's site, so I know for a fact that I am far from alone in saying what I say. I look forward to reading your future reviews but hope they are more fair and just.
Ryan the Bear (excuse me if I don't sign with my real name; my position does not allow it)
I wish I had influence enough to write a review people would actually read. I feel this book deserves it. I am sadly not a blogger, nor do I have a large following.
You have some good rebuttals, but I will still stick with my criticisms. Yes, a reason is given for Prince Natier's working against the plotters who have overthrown his father, but it seems inconsistent with his establishment in Chapter 1 as a hedonist who hates the stuffy responsibilities of his aristocratic rank, and who doesn't care what his upper-class peers think of him! Being publicly branded as an attempted regicide would seem to be an excellent way to get out of that position and permanently into the Rivard role that he prefers. Does he want the king to testify on his behalf just for his reputation among the commoners? That doesn't seem too plausible. He would be much freer to live a life of adventure and danger in his role of Rivard. And would he want the king to testify on his behalf without restoring the king? That wouldn't seem to do much for his reputation, either.
Similarly, to me (and I emphasize that, to me), the descriptions of his youth and stamina do not seem sufficient to explain how Natier/Rivard is able to work all day, party or go thieving all night, and still carry on the intense sex life that he does, even if the author does describe him as being pretty tired after the latter.
I felt that my review was pretty long as it was, so I did not get into the latter half where Rivard and Sam leave Llyra and have very different naval adventures. I left that to be a surprise for the readers. Possibly I should have left more "it seems that, but ..." and "there are surprises ahead" hints in the review.
Although there was no place to say so here, I was reminded of a criticism that I made in a review of Akif Pirinçci's "Felidae on the Road", the first sequel to his "Felidae", about fifteen years ago. I said that the sequel was so similar to the first novel that I almost grew bored and stopped reading it. Suddenly the story veered in a completely new direction, and it turns out that Pirinçci is deliberately making things so similar to lull the protagonist into a false complacency; "been here, done that". By the time he realizes that the villain has been setting him up, I felt that the average reader would have given up on the novel as just an unimaginative rehash of the first book. Aalto has done something similar here; many of the earlier criticisms turn out to be explained away, but too late in the novel to satisfy the reader.
I do say that, despite my criticisms, I enjoyed "The Prince of Knaves" and I think that readers will, too. (Those that aren't put off by all the graphic sex.) I look forward to Aalto's next novel, which I hope will be even better.
If I might step in, I see Ch1 as a sort of "be careful what you wish for" setup. The prince laments having to keep up appearances in the court, and suddenly he's given the choice not to, only to realize that perhaps that isn't truly what he wants.
The author talks about that. He says the prince comes to miss palace life.
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