Goodreads: Sebastian Darke: Prince of Fools
Series: Sebastian Darke #1
With his father, a famous jester, dead, Sebastian determines to carry on the family business to support his mother. To do so, however, he has to travel to the court of King Septimus, said to be a wealthy ruler. On the way, Sebastian and his talking buffalope Max meet an incredible fighter named Cornelius and rescue King Septimus’s niece Princess Kerin from brigands. It’s unfortunate for Sebastian’s career plans, however, that Septimus wanted Kerin dead.
Prince of Fools is a standard and rather predictable fantasy featuring a seventeen-year-old male protagonist who must find his way in the world. The titular character, Sebastian Darke, leaves home to become a jester so he can support his mother–but, unfortunately, is not very funny. More fortunately, he runs into a series of adventures that see him team up with one of the world’s best fighters and princess–not bad for a teenager with no particular talent or skill (aside from his odd ability to handle a sword. The book is not clear on why Sebastian’s jester father would have known how to wield one or bothered to train his decidedly not-a-noble son with one. Also unclear is how a jester with wealth enough to buy swords manages to leave his family impoverished after his death. But I digress.) So begins an episodic novel that is never surprising or novel, and never even pretends to be.
Sebastian’s adventures are pretty much run-of-the-mill. He fights brigands, runs into a pack of wolf-like creatures, rescues a princess who turns out to be disagreeable and spoiled but pretty and then not so disagreeable after all, and then finds himself in the middle of the world’s most obvious treason plot. Septimus wants the throne and he cannot have it unless he disposes of his niece, the rightful heir, before she comes of age. He’s petty and spoiled and angry and everyone knows it. He consorts with an evil witch and everyone knows it. He runs the country terribly and everyone knows it. But they all pretend not to so they can keep their jobs.
It’s bad enough that everyone in the castle knows what’s up, but worse that Caveney does not even attempt to surprise the readers. He lets them into the inmost thoughts of all the villains, spells out the plots so every ambush or “twist” can be seen miles away, and never diverges from the standard fantasy episodes. It’s almost like readers are completing a checklist. Brigands. Check. Witch. Check. Prison break. Check. Princess kidnapped. Check.
This would be excusable if the characters had any life or were interesting enough to make the plot seem unique, but they’re mostly cardboard cutouts with little development. Princess Kerin is spoiled and haughty–then suddenly not, for plot purposes. Cornelius is the world’s best fighter. That’s pretty much all you can say about him. Sebastian is the typical male teen protagonist. He also conveniently has elf sense so he can read all the other characters’ personality traits without even working to get to know them–meaning the readers don’t have to work, either. Max the buffalope, a talking beast of burden (though he prefers “partner”) is by far the most interesting character in the book, though he gets to do little besides complain about everything.
Bored with the characters and the plot and a little scandalized by the illustrations (talk about some low-cut dresses for the princess there–is this a kids’ book?), I did not much enjoy this book. It also seemed to think it was clever, but I did not, and that’s by far one of the worst things a book can be for me. There are three sequels, but I will not be reading them.