NOT QUITE SCARAMOUCHE
by Joel Rosenberg
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Over the course of seventeen years and nine novels, Joel Rosenberg’s “Guardians of the Flame” series has changed in both tone and focus. Originally the story of a group of college role-players who find themselves in a magical land, the series focused on their acclimatizing themselves to their new situation. By Not Quite Scaramouche, the situation has reversed and the fantasyland is trying to acclimatize itself to twentieth-century American notions of society. Furthermore, while the original characters still play major roles, they no longer form the focus of Rosenberg’s novels. Not Quite Scaramouche is the second book to focus on the misadventures of Pirojil, Kethol and Erenor, a trio of soldiers who serve both the Emperor of Holtun-Bieme and the Cullinane family, although not necessarily in that order.
Rosenberg first fully explored these characters in Not Exactly the Three Musketeers, in which he indicated a full backstory for each of the characters, but refused to divulge what the stories were. In Not Quite Scaramouche, he continues to hold his cards close to his chest, although occasionally giving away hints which may or may not be red herrings. At the end of the novel, the reader still yearns to discover more about these three soldiers and hopes that Rosenberg will continue to follow their adventures.
There is little activity in the novel. The emperor, Theron, has called a Parliament and Rosenberg tracks the movements of the barons of Holt and Bieme to his castle. While there is some intrigue, little of it is on the part of the viewpoint characters, which include Rosenberg’s master of intrigue, Walter Slovotsky. When the trio of Pirojil, Kethol and Erenor are finally sent on their quest, it wraps up quite quickly, leaving the reader wanting to know what happens next and what has gone before, but somehow dissatisfied with the book as a whole.
For fans of the series as it originally was written, Rosenberg includes more of his original characters in Not Quite Scaramouche than he did in Not Exactly the Three Musketeers. In addition to Slovotsky, both Andrea Cullinane (nee Andropoulos) and Ahira take center stage at one point or another in the story, and Jason Cullinane’s journey from his barony to the imperial castle is plays a major role.
While Not Quite Scaramouche lacks the intense action of some of the earlier books in the series, it remains an enjoyable novel. Rosenberg brings his sense of humor along, providing both subtle and obvious references and jokes. In the process, he also gives a clue that the world from which Walter, Andrea, and the other gamers come from is the same world which plays host to Ian, Torrie, and the other characters in Rosenberg’s “Keepers of the Hidden Ways” series. At the same time, Rosenberg indulges in metafiction by (possibly) including him own family in that universe.
Just as Not Exactly the Three Musketeers did not follow the plot or characterizations of The Three Musketeers, Not Quite Scaramouche takes some ideas from Raphael Sabatini’s novel but does not owe its entire existence to Scaramouche. In this manner, Rosenberg honors his predecessors while bringing new ideas and stories to their work.
Rosenberg writes good, clean fantasy which includes plenty of twists and turns, but without the dark edge that many fantasy novelists include in their works. His characters, even his villains, have likable qualities and understandable motives. Furthermore, while the reader may enjoy the novel more after reading the earlier books in the series, most of the book stands on its own (aside from some cryptic references to the Other Side) or in conjunction with Not Exactly the Three Musketeers.
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