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Three Princes

Posted by Vanessa On Monday, May 19, 2014

It's the year 1877, but not like we would recognize. Egypt's capital Memphis is the center of civilization, its Pharaoh the lord over Europe, Africa, and much of Asia. Scott Oken and Mikel Mabruke are agents of the Pharaoh, even though they have royal titles of their own (like the Pharaoh, they are descended from Cesar and Cleopatra). They travel the world to secure intelligence for the empire, to keep it safe and strong.

Oken is called home from an assignment and Mabruke out of retirement to be sent on a special quest for the queen: to discover what the Inca king is up to. Some suspect he's building a rocket ship that will go all the way to the moon, and the queen of Egypt doesn't want to be left out of the endeavor.

As Oken and Mabruke travel across the ocean to the cradle of western civilization, they discover that the plans are much more nefarious than expected--of course.

I liked this book on the surface, it was entertaining and clever, particularly the technological elements. The prose was lively and the novel itself was easy to read...only if I didn't think too much about it. After it was over and I had some time to understand what really happened, I was disappointed. Wheeler sets up the story well enough, with lots of initial details to suck you in, and with plenty of exciting situations our heroes must find their way out of. Unfortunately, despite all that effort, THREE PRINCES falls frustratingly short.

It falls short in the world-building. Since it's an alternate history novel of Egypt and Maya civilizations that continued instead of collapsing, Wheeler attempts to show how they would have modernized. But even an amateur historian like myself was left with a lot of questions. There are references to people like Queen Victoria, Galileo, and so on, but how can they exist in a world where England and Italy did not evolve in a way where they would be the same as in our world? How did the Maya not collapse? How did Egypt retain its power and spread? What events allowed this to happen? I wasn't expecting a history book, but some hints would have been helpful so I could find this alternate world more believable.

While I enjoyed Oken as the PoV narrator, I never once felt like I could take the characters and situations in THREE PRINCES seriously. Maybe that's what Wheeler intended, a sort of cartoony off-the-wall zaniness. Maybe a campy kind of Egyptian James Bond. I don't know, but it still didn't quite work. Everything was too perfect: all the food was delicious; everything was luxurious and well-made; the bad people were not only insane they were stupid and easy to defeat and had no clear motivations; the women were all beautiful and clever; the heroes were smart and perfectly justified and a little too modern in their sensibilities. It didn't feel like a real place or that these people could have existed.

And isn't that the point of alternate histories? To explore the 'what if' and to carry it out in a way that would follow logical conclusions based on reasonable hypothesis? The premise is there and it's cool, but the story relies too much on coincidence to give it the structure it needed to carry the story to a reasonable conclusion.

Recommended Age: 16+
Language: Almost none
Violence: Scattered and some blood, but not particularly graphic
Sex: Implied and referenced

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