I know. I know. The vintage novel reviews have been a bit thin on the ground lately, mostly thanks to The Lord of the Rings taking up a lot of my reading time. NO REGERTS, as the ill-judged tattoo said. Still, I did find the time over the last couple of weeks to fit in my second Mary Roberts Rinehart novel, a tale of Ruritanian adventure and intrigue titled Long Live the King!
Nine-year-old Prince William Ferdinand Otto may be the Crown Prince of Livonia, poised to gain the throne upon the death of crusty old Ferdinand II, but he'd much rather have a clever dog that does tricks, a fig lady to snack on, and a small friend to play pirates with in the Park. Unbeknownst to William Ferdinand Otto, however, a revolutionary secret society is plotting his downfall, and as the old king's health deteriorates, the grown-ups around him resort to increasingly desperate measures to keep him, and the crown of Livonia, safe.
When wily old Chancellor Mettlich plans to marry second-in-line-to-the-throne Princess Hedwig to Livonia's old enemy King Karl of Karnia. Nikky Larisch, the young guardsman who loves Hedwig, and Countess Olga Loschek, Karl's discarded mistress and spy, are equally appalled by the idea. But can either of them do anything, short of betraying the entire royal family to the revolutionaries?
Meanwhile, a young student is kept under lock and key by a gang of conspirators. An old veteran is slowly induced to turn traitor. A young boy discovers the doorway to a secret passage in the park. And William Ferdinand Otto waits for the moment when he can finally have a pet dog of his own.
I thought this was a quite enjoyable book, but I didn't enjoy it as much as I did my first Rinehart book, When a Man Marries. Long Live the King! was much less comedic in tone, and I thought it was messily constructed. It has such a lot of different characters, with such a lot of different agendas, that it ultimately felt rather unfocused. Sure, there were plenty of memorable and engaging scenes and moments in the book, but they didn't feel very well woven together. One moment we would be reading about Nikky Larisch on a dangerous adventure in Karnia, and the next we would be reading about old Adelbert growing increasingly disillusioned with his country, or Prince William Ferdinand Otto looking for a lost ball. Perhaps it wasn't just the multitude of different characters that this story included, so much as the multitude of different tones and even genres. A bit of psychological drama, a bit of political intrigue, a bit of swashbuckling adventure, a bit of romance, a bit of kidlit, and so on. I felt it needed a stronger focus on just one element or just one character, in order to pull everything together.
While I can't say I ever lost myself in this story, I did enjoy certain aspects of it. I appreciated how Rinehart provides a subtle critique of both the ancien regime of this old (fictional) Eastern European monarchy, as well as of the revolutionaries. The revolutionaries are ruffians and cutthroats who believe they can give "liberty" to the people at the barrel of a gun, but it's impossible to miss Rinehart's disapproval of a society ruled by aristocrats who treat everyone beneath them--even their own children--as pawns in a game for power. But even this critique was subtle and balanced.
To sum up, I thought Long Live the King! was perfectly unobjectionable, but a little difficult to love. What about you? Have you read it? What did you think?
Find Long Live the King! on Amazon, The Book Depository, or Project Gutenberg.