Roger Zelazny & Robert Sheckley,
Bring Me the Head of Prince Charming
(Spectra, 1991)

Bring Me the Head of Prince Charming starts out like gangbusters, starts to hit some slow patches midway through and sort of just fizzles at the end, but it's still a very funny book by the writing duo of Roger Zelazny and Robert Sheckley.

The main character is Azzie Elbub, a demon who finally gets the chance to get out of the pits and go back up to Earth, thanks to the Grim Reaper's slightly premature harvesting of a certain soul. Even the devil wants nothing to do with lawsuits, so he sends Azzie along to make sure the not-dead guy makes an easy transition back into life.

Azzie's luck is even better than he initially thinks, as his return to Earth just so happens to fall in the days leading up to the year 1000. Every millennium, the forces of Good and Evil stage a contest to determine who will control the universe for the next 10 centuries. Azzie just so happens to have a great idea to pitch to the Millennial Evil Deeds committee. He will recreate the whole Sleeping Beauty-Prince Charming story, but this time evil will rise up and destroy any chance of a happily-ever-after ending. So, with his idea approved and an unlimited credit card in hand for the purchase of necessary supplies, he sets to work. He needs a good assistant, of course, and a couple of castles, and an Enchanted Forest that simply must have flaming trees and such, and of course he will need a fitting Prince Charming and Sleeping Beauty. Here is where the magic of his plan really shines, as he takes parts from different bodies and brings them together in an act of magical creation that guarantees, he thinks, the success of his nefarious plan. Thus, his Prince Charming has the legs of one of mankind's biggest cowards, Sleeping Beauty gets such nifty features as a left arm born for stealing, etc.

Of course, Azzie faces obstacles along the way. His otherworldly suppliers are less than cooperative with his requisition requests, he has to deal with an angel of Good overseeing his whole operation (no cheating, even for Evil), and his initial plans for micromanaging the activities of Prince Charming in particular have to be rethought several times over. He does have an old witch flame at his side, and the god Hermes can always be counted upon to give good advice, but Azzie keeps falling into little traps set by little girls wanting wishes, dwarves who don't take kindly to having their precious gems forcibly loaned out, and other magical snares.

Unfortunately, the novel's cohesion threatens to come apart at the seams as the novel progresses. There is never a sense of discontinuity between both authors; rather, it is as if another author failed to deliver his part of the whole story. Transitions become much more rapid and forced, certain minor characters seem to be forgotten along the way and the climax comes and goes so fast you might miss it. The idea behind the story is brilliant, and the authors clearly start out with the power and will to make it work, but something goes wrong along the way, making the second half of the novel feel forced and unsatisfying.

Still, though, there is a lot of fun and laughs to be found in these pages, and the reader's thoughts about what could have been do not necessarily destroy the entertainment value of this farcical fantasy.

by Daniel Jolley
26 November 2005

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