Many know Davis from his bestselling Star Trek novels. Released from that format, he becomes a darkly amusing fantasist. The opening here echoes the oversexed court-jester scene in Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex (But Were Afraid to Ask), with stableboy Apropos being found in Lady Granitz’s chamber by her husband, Sir Granitz, King Runcible’s most bloodthirsty knight, who accidentally impales himself on his own sword while trying to slay Apropos. Apropos and Lady Granitz invent a tale that they were trying to keep Granitz from suicide. So Runcible, perhaps seeing Apropos as a marvelous patsy who may actually succeed, has the Queen send him out on a mission. Then we learn of Apropos’ penniless mother who, lost once in the woods, saw a phoenix burn to ash and rise again in flame. When she’s raped by six knights, the child born to her has flaming red hair, a phoenix flame on his thigh, a misshapen right leg, and teeth. Covered with birth blood, he bites a boorish tavernkeeper and is named Apropos because he’s a child of violence born with teeth. His mother raises him on a whore’s earnings, and he’s taught to steal by Tacit, a magical youth raised by unicorns, with whom he saves beautiful Sharee the weaver from a mob. When Apropos’ mother is murdered and robbed, he goes to Runcible for justice. Instead, he’s made squire to creaky old Sir Umbrage, who must accompany Apropos on a mission to pick up the fiery young Princess Entipy from the Faith Women’s Retreat and on the way back educate her. Or they could go to the Screaming Gorge of Eternal Madness and—would they rather make that quest? What can it mean when Apropos at last finds a phoenix birthmark just like his on Entipy’s bare hip? And what do the unicorns know that he doesn’t? Has he, in fact, gotten his own sister pregnant?
Steady fun, yes, but rather YA.