cover image Every Inch a King

Every Inch a King

Harry Turtledove, . . Del Rey, $14.95 (297pp) ISBN 978-0-345-48736-0

Fantastical historian Turtledove (Settling Accounts: The Grapple ) puts a merry spin on the true tale of circus clown Otto Witte, who enjoyed a brief and glorious reign over Albania in 1913 thanks to a case of mistaken identity and the help of sword-swallower Max Schlepsig. Here, Turtledove reimagines Albania as Shqiperi, Otto Witte as Otto of Schlepsig, Max Schlepsig as Max of Witte, and disguises various other people and places in more (Ottoman Empire: Hassocki Empire) and less (Macedonia: Fyrom) obvious ways, while the seas are populated with serpents, and turn-of-the-20th-century technology is replaced by wizards. Masquerading as Prince Halim Eddin, Otto bullies and bluffs his way with Max across the continent in fine style. They enjoy the many pleasures of the Shqiperi palace, plundering its harem and treasury before making good their escape. Fictionalized reality requires top-notch style to balance the lack of suspense, and while Turtledove provides credible wordplay and commentary, he's no Terry Pratchett. Nonetheless, this stand-alone novel is a fun romp through an undeservedly obscure moment in history. (Feb.)