by John Rowe Townsend ‧ RELEASE DATE: April 1, 1983
Don't expect political relevance; this is sheer palace-revolution farce, and Townsend proves an adroit practitioner. The heroine is unglamorous 16-year-old Kate Milbank, daughter of a London newspaper's foreign editor, and sensible enough to be wary when the handsome crown prince of Essenheim (population 15,000) begins paying her disturbingly intermittent attention and half-convincing compliments. Charmed despite herself, Kate allows Prince Rudi to whisk her off for a visit to Essenheim; her father's only stipulation is that George, a young reporter on his paper, go along to do a story and keep an eye out. Once established in the imposing, heavily mortgaged palace, Kate learns that Rudi is passing her off as his mistress (he's engaged to marry a distant cousin, a wealthy ten-year-old princess) to convince his old uncle the Prince Laureate that he's settled down and ready to take over. Rudi is eager, he tells Kate, to make Essenheim ""modern and democratic."" Miffed as she is by his scheme, and by his below-stairs girlfriend, Kate agrees to stay until after Rudi's welcome-home ball, when he will be proclaimed the new Prince Laureate. But when the announcement is made, Essenheim's powerful prime minister, Dr. Stockhausen, who has other plans, steps in--whereupon Colonel Schweiner, head of Essenheim's army of 60 men, arrests Stockhausen, Rudi, and the old prince. Kate is confined to her room under guard. Before she and George escape to England, Kate will spend time in the palace dungeon; the military coup will be overthrown by a student revolution, and that in turn by the principality's chief moneybags, the real power in the land; and Kate will have the opportunity to refuse a genuine proposal from Rudi, who survives and thrives in each regime by betraying the one before. Each new coup and power shift, moreover, is announced between commercials in the enthusiastic cheerful tones of Moritz, Essenheim's single radio broadcaster. In the end a small band manages to assemble the people for a free election; it is aided by the palace cleaning women, overworked by the bulging dungeon, who free the students, soldiers, and other prisoners; and the people of Essenheim vote to become a part of democratic, dull Serenia next door. The plot is not simply a string of upheavals; we've met each group and been prepared for its role before it takes center stage. Townsend choreographs their interactions nimbly and his caricatures-in-action are sharper and shrewder than their parallels in many straight political thrillers or solemn imaginary-kingdom fantasies.
Pub Date: April 1, 1983
Page Count: -
Review Posted Online: N/A
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 1983
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