Thursday, February 18, 2010

Once on a Time: a Free Book review

A. A. Milne of Winnie-the-Pooh fame, also wrote a fantasy for adults ("adult fantasy" in the proper, not the creepy sense). It's called Once on a Time, and it's available free through both Gutenberg (e-text) and LibriVox (audiobook).

The Wikipedia article referenced above (and here, too, of course) is fairly complete, giving enough information without spoilers. As my summary, I'll just say that this is an unconventional book about some conventional fantasy tropes--magic rings, fairy wishes, seven-league boots, cloaks of invisibility, and so forth. It's rather modern in some ways: there is no true villain or villainess. The King of Barodia surely isn't a bad guy--no worse than the King of Euralia, anyway--and the Countess Belvane is mostly just vain and self-indulgent. She's manipulative, but mainly she's a kind of practical joker who enjoys acclaim and schemes to get money simply so she can make a big deal of giving it away. (That should sound familiar to anyone who follows politics.)

Is it fun? Generally, yes. It's not in the same class as Winnie-the-Pooh, but it's a fairly good read. I don't think children would get it: it's a bit too self-aware and bent on parody for them. Is it funny? In places. The initial matter of the seven-league boots and the Euralian response is quite droll, as are the accidental encounter between the two kings as they try to spy on each other. The curse on Prince Udo is amusing in concept, though I thought it was treated a little too clinically.

So I would recommend this story for modern fantasy readers who want to kill a few hours. If you like The Princess Bride, which is very similar, you'll probably enjoy Once on a Time.

[Addendum: I just realized I need to explain why Once on a Time is like The Princess Bride. Simply put, both are Ruritanian romances (stories set in fictional countries) with fantasy elements, both have a love story (or two) and court intrigues, and both are supposedly based on a fictitious pre-existing work (by Roger Scurvilegs for OoaT and S. Morgenstern for TPB). As to differences, Once on a Time is significantly less violent and lacks a true villain.]

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