Harry Turtledove and I have a love/hate relationship. I usually love his plotting, but the writing (at least in his Great War series) leaves a lot to be desired - so much so that I've actively avoided most other books by him other than that series. However, having heard good things about Every Inch a King, I decided to take a flyer on it and check it out. It is one of the better Turtledove books that I've read, but it's still not a classic. There are too many annoyances (some of them typical Turtledove and others new to me) for it to be more than a readable adventure.
Based on the true story of a German acrobat who disguised himself as king of Albania for five days prior to World War I, Every Inch a King takes place in a fantasy land with dragons, werewolves, vampires, and magic. Otto of Schlepsig, an acrobat in a down-and-out traveling carnival, happens upon a newspaper item mentioning that the kingdom of Shqiperi has requested Prince Halim Eddin of the Hassockian Empire to become its king. Otto notices that the prince bears a striking resemblance to Otto himself and enlists the gigantic sword-eater with a cough named Max to help him in a cunning plan to pass himself off as king. They leave the carnival and make their way slowly to Shqiperi, where Otto invests himself as the new king. He manages to experience a number of the perks of kingship (especially the harem) before his short-lived reign ends. Since he's narrating the story, you know he survives, but how? And will Max ever let him forget it?
One benefit to Every Inch a King is that there's only one viewpoint character. The entire book is told from Otto's point of view; he's the narrator, and Turtledove writes it as if Otto is telling the story. Thus we get all the fits and starts, small digressions and "oops, that part is coming up" snippets that can happen with any non-professional storyteller. While this is actually amusing at times, at others it gets really annoying as Otto is not a good storyteller. I get the feeling that, if Otto was telling me this story over a beer, I would have dumped it over his head around page 50.
The problems consist of some of Turtledove's mainstays: annoying repetition (though since there's only one narrator, the repetition is more the way he words things and his descriptions), wooden prose, and some irritating character traits. I can't count the number of times Otto repeats things like how Max doesn't smile much or how swearing in the Hassocki language is almost universally understood. His thoughts on the various countries in the area are also repeatedly stated, without much change other than the words themselves.
The jokes are often weak, though some are pretty good (I love how he describes Count Rappaport as looking "as if he'd killed and skinned a candy cane, or possibly like a barber pole with legs and enameled decorations."). Other funny aspects (though the jokes began to wear thin after a while) are the media jokes (called "scribes" in this fantasy world). One poor reporter named Bob only speaks one language, one which Otto speaks but he pretends not to. Many jokes are made about Bob, and after a while, they did begin to get stale. Funnier are the jokes about the media in general, as Turtledove does a great job with the parallel.
Even so, the book is mostly entertaining and a very quick read. Turtledove's never been known for complicated books, and this certainly isn't one. The prose style is spare but also a bit clunky (which is also typical Turtledove). For some reason, it just didn't read that pleasantly to my eye, though there's really nothing wrong with it. It's mostly just a taste thing, and if you're a Turtledove fan, then this book will be perfect for you.
I know this sounds like a very negative review, but there's a saving grace to Every Inch a King: it's a fun book. Sure, it's not as fun as it wants to be, but the situation is comical, there are enough good one-liners to make you smile just a little bit, and Turtledove keeps close to the real history (other than the dragons and such) so you feel like you're learning something as well. It can also be fun trying to place the fictional countries with their real counterparts, though unless you know the real story, that's not really possible until the end. That's when Turtledove commits a massive exposition that tells the tale of this fictional continent and how it got into a war almost exactly the same as World War I. After that, it's pretty easy unless you know nothing about history.
All in all, I'm glad I read Every Inch a King. Once again, though, it's for the plot and not the writing. That being said, it's definitely a good read for those interested in a little light-hearted historical fantasy. Just try not to grit your teeth too much.