Three Princes: A struggle to finish

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fantasy and science fiction book reviewsThree Princes by Ramona Wheeler fantasy book reviewsThree Princes by Ramona Wheeler

Ramona Wheeler came up with a great setting premise for her novel Three Princes: an alternate Earth where neither the Egyptian nor the Incan Empires ever failed. Now, from their center in Memphis, Egypt rules an enormous swath of land across Africa, Europe, and Asia, though not all are happy with said rule, especially a resistance group led by Otto von Bismarck. Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, the Incans rule most of that area, which they crisscross in their Quetzal airships, the secret of which they closely guard. When rumors arise of an Incan attempt to land a rocket on the moon, two royal agents of the Egyptian Empire, Lord Scott Oken and Professor/Captain Prince Mikel Mabruke are sent across the wide ocean to investigate.

Like I said, it’s a great setting premise, one refreshingly distant from the usual European-based background. Unfortunately, though Wheeler flashes some moments, the setting and premise are mostly missed opportunities, thanks to a host of issues.

Plotting is mostly weak, relying on coincidences and conveniences, perfectly timed arrivals and departures, and too many people knowing just what to do too often. The action is episodic in nature as Scott and Mik travel from place to place, but it all feels a bit disjointed and removed and I can’t say any of it is all that exciting or even interesting. Too much feels random or without sufficient explanation/motivation, while other plot points are dropped in or dropped out.

The characters are pretty pallid and all too simplistic, either all good or all bad. Mik, for instance, has this magical charisma that charms everyone immediately, while one of the villains is a raving maniac, literally. Not to mention nearly everyone Scott meets is beautiful and full of “presence.”

Wheeler does a great job on several occasions in describing physical surroundings and settings, conveying that sense of different cultures I was so looking forward to. These moments were also the only times the prose really rose above merely adequate. But despite the vivid descriptions, say, of the Queen Mother’s estate, an Incan air terminal, the streets of Memphis, at times one wants more of a sense of difference as well; the cultures, despite their technology, feel strangely entombed.

In the end, the originality of the premise, while promising, could not overcome the weaknesses in plotting and characterization that made Three Princes a struggle to finish. Not recommended.

Publication Date: February 4, 2014. Lord Scott Oken, a prince of Albion, and Professor-Prince Mikel Mabruke live in a world where the sun never set on the Egyptian Empire. In the year 1877 of Our Lord Julius Caesar, Pharaoh Djoser-George governs a sprawling realm that spans Europe, Africa, and much of Asia. When the European terrorist Otto von Bismarck touches off an international conspiracy, Scott and Mik are charged with exposing the plot against the Empire. Their adventure takes them from the sands of Memphis to a lush New World, home of the Incan Tawantinsuyu, a rival empire across the glittering Atlantic Ocean. Encompassing Quetzal airships, operas, blood sacrifice and high diplomacy, Ramona Wheeler’s Three Princes is a richly imagined, cinematic vision of a modern Egyptian Empire.

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BILL CAPOSSERE, who's been with us since June 2007, lives in Rochester NY, where he is an English adjunct by day and a writer by night. His essays and stories have appeared in Colorado Review, Rosebud, Alaska Quarterly, and other literary journals, along with a few anthologies, and been recognized in the "Notable Essays" section of Best American Essays. His children's work has appeared in several magazines, while his plays have been given stage readings at GEVA Theatre and Bristol Valley Playhouse. When he's not writing, reading, reviewing, or teaching, he can usually be found with his wife and son on the frisbee golf course or the ultimate frisbee field.

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