When their realm is invaded by a tyrant determined to exterminate all magic, apprentice spellcasters/orphans Dirklus and Annah are caught between opposing armies of pirates, dwarves, knights, comically greedy merchants, big-hearted prostitutes and their conflicted feelings for each other.
Fans of Piers Anthony’s Xanth novels and Terry Pratchett’s comical fantasies are the ideal readership for this fractured-fairytale romp. In revenge for a witch’s humiliating hex that punished his sexual depredations, wicked King Archon obsessively crusades to destroy all magic-wielders. Young Dirklus and Annah are sent to safety on a spell-shrouded peninsula, where they grow up apprenticed to a haughty, detached wizard, seemingly more annoyed than anything else at the posturing mortals around him, especially a colony of über-capitalist merchants renown for their sweet onions (which, when hurled, can serve as stun weapons) and their beautiful daughters groomed to be the most pleasantly accommodating of prostitutes. When Archonians rather ineffectually invade the peninsula, they primarily succeed in carrying off the colony’s prized whore, Nooki, who happens to be Dirklus’ sweetheart. Dirklus goes on a careening rescue-quest, despite his barely controllable sorceries and tomboy Annah’s jealous insistence that she, not Nooki, is the right girl for him, never mind the gossip that the two apprentices are blood relatives. The abundant sexual repartee is charmingly bawdy in nonexplicit, old-school fashion, and Beach does well evoking the magical action in brief, slapstick-y brush-strokes, though rarely inspiring actual awe, just satisfied smirks (even if a horde of treelike giants are a shameless steal from J.R.R. Tolkien’s “ents”). While some of the punning-ly named characters could have used a bit more depth, they prove to be capable of surprising. Granted that a “to be continued…” shingle hangs at the end of the tale, Beach’s work avoids any cliffhanger endings to function neatly as a standalone. Even so, fantasy-genre readers with a penchant for sly stuff that never takes itself too seriously—and remains coyly naughty around the margins—won’t mind a return to Beach’s shores.
Cheeky, tongue-in-cheek mock fantasy not without flaws, but captivates nonetheless.