Three Princes


Ramona Wheeler


Science Fiction / Fantasy


Date Reviewed:

March 8, 2014

hree Princes is an alternate history novel; it is a world where the Mayan and Egyptian empires never collapsed, but instead remain thriving entities into what appears to be the equivalent of our 19th century. It is the story of two princes of the Egyptian Empire - Lord Scott Oken and Professor Prince Mikel Mabruke - who work as spies for the Pharoah Queen Sashetah Irene. In the beginning of the novel, the pair are concerned about a secret organization called the Red Hand, as well as the evil plotting of rogues Albert and Victoria; but a report has come in that the Inca empire is trying to build a rocket ship to send to the moon, so all these initial concerns are dropped and Princes Oken and Mabruke are sent to the new world.

What Wheeler does best is write lavish descriptions of opulent luxury. At every location, including in desert tents out in the Sahara desert, the princes encounter beautiful and rich scenes - tasty and elaborate feasts, wonderous architecture, priceless furniture, amazing clothes, heady scents, the finest wines, glittering jewels, etc. The people who live in these places are healthy, strong and beautiful, with restrained manners and tastefully knowing their places. A movie directory would need a giant budget to film all the ornate locations described here.

Another nice part of the novel is Wheeler's description of the flying Quetzals of the Inca empire. (Wouldn't the Incas call their air ships condors? Quetzals are only found in central America, which is the location of the Mayan empire.) I have loved flying airships ever since I read A Princess of Mars back in my high school days. Wheeler envisions huge craft levitated by the lighter-than-air gas Tlalocene in huge balloons of caoutchouc. Human crews pedal to provide propulsion, and talking macaws and albatrosses guide the ship. Only the Incas have flying aircraft, for some reason the Egyptians can't figure how to build their own (we are told that the Egyptian empire leases all of its aircraft from the Inca empire.)

Unfortunately, when it comes to such key elements as plot and characterization, Three Princes falls flat. Lord Oken and Prince Mabruke, and the third prince, Incan Viracocha, are perfect in all respects. They are handsome, smart, generous, young and full of good humor. Mabruke exudes so much charisma that hunting dogs pursuing him will suddenly roll over and ask for belly rubs. Lord Oken has a eidetic memory - he can recall in perfect detail any document or sight that he has ever looked at. Viracocha is a gigantic man, but none of it is fat - he is a paragon of human form - muscular, powerful and physically beautiful. Naturally, the most gorgeous women all desire to be with our heroes. Even more disappointing, these princes act exactly like men from our 21st century. They are against slavery, believe in premarital sex, the equality of women, and that the lower class people are just as noble as their own aristocratic position. There is a ridiculous chapter where the princes loudly praise an Incan cook named Mama Kusay. The cook is embarrassed that these nobles come into her kitchen at treat her as another member of the royalty. Indeed, for the rest of the book we are subjected mentions of the glorious foods of Mama Kusay - it is so numerous that it appears to be a product-placement stunt, as if there really is a Mama Kusay's somewhere in Peru and Ramona Wheeler got paid for every time she mentioned it. These princes are supposed to be from cultures that are dramatically different than our own, yet they think and act exactly like us. Both the Egyptian empire and Incas had slavery - when did these opinions change? The Egyptian royalty considered themselves gods on earth, they would never have treated common mortals as equals, which is why they were always inbreeding - only their own royal family members were divine enough to marry.

The bad guys are cartoon villains. While the Princes are perfect, the antagonists are evil and jealous and petty. Pachacuti, Viracocha's older brother and designated Inheritor of the Inca throne, acts without planning, without reason, without believability. Suppose the rockets are successful and Memphis is obliterated - then what? Does the Inca empire invade the Old World? Already the Inca empire has sole mastery of skies, if Pachacuti really wanted to destroy the Egyptian capitol, he could fill up a fleet of airships with powerful explosives and attack with impunity. There is no need to build rockets.

This leads to other failing in this novel - the plot. The deeds of Bismark make no sense. For reasons unexplained, he wishes to overthrow the Egyptian empire. He is working for Victoria and Albert, but their motivations are equally obscure. Why travel to the Inca empire to build rockets? The Incas don't have metallurgy, they don't have intricate components, they don't have knowledge of liquid fuels or precision engineering. It would take an enormous team of scientists and engineers to invent the science of intercontinental ballistic missiles - but why would Bismark go through all that expense and effort? Why not just build an enormous bomb on a barge and sail it up the Nile to Memphis?

In this alternate history, there are brief references to Gaudi the architect or Florence Nightengale the nurse or the Galileo Observatory - people in this universe apparently perform the same roles that they did in our universe. But Bismark had nothing to do with rockets, he was a politician not a scientist. Is it merely because Bismark was German, and so was Werner von Braun, that Wheeler places him in charge of the rocket plot?

My biggest disappointment in this alternate history novel is that the alternate history itself is never explored. What were the changes in historical events that led to this different timeline? Why are the empires of India and China never mentioned? If the Mayan and Egyptian empires never fell, does Angkor Wat still stand? If there was no Columbus, how did the old world and new world meet? Why didn't smallpox and plague wipe out the citizens of the new world in this universe? I am not suggesting that the whole alternate timeline be spelled out, but there is zero historical background provided, and that is shame, because the best part of different an alternate history is speculating what might have been different if certain events had gone otherwise.

This novel appears to be first in a proposed series, which is perhaps why so much is unexplained, but I will probably skip any additional books.