My review of Ardennia: The Unlikely Story of Cinderella’s Prince by Bruce Calhoun
This first book in a series chronicles the many adventures of Cinderella’s prince as he undergoes his baptism of fire in the Battle of Paris, is charmed by Cinderella at a masquerade ball, and sets off on a quest to find her after she flees the ball at the midnight hour. The quest takes him through strange lands supposedly inhabited by ogres, pixies, hobgoblins, man-eating plants and giants, and peopled by extraordinary characters that include an epileptic bard, a bean counter who wagers his gold tooth in a dice game, a merchant who can never be too prosperous, a little girl who has a running feud with three bears, pilgrims that argue over who is the most pious and a beggar who has been cursed with leprosy for committing all the cardinal sins. Be on the look-out for a bit of Chaucer-like satire in this adapted fairy tale.
Excerpt from Ardennia
Two days later Henry had another tete-a tete, this time with the daughter of the Viscount of Montreuil. The second he saw her he knew she was not who he was looking for because she was too tall. Disappointed, he made some polite conversation and then said he had to be going on his way. Tears welled up in her eyes.
“What’s the matter?” he asked.
“Why must you leave so soon? Did I say something to offend you?” she asked.
“No,” he said.
“I did, didn’t I. I’m sorry; I just say the stupidest things sometimes. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s because I get so nervous when I’m around men and I try too hard to compensate for being so tall.”
“You didn’t say anything stupid and you’re not too tall,” he said diplomatically.
“I’m taller than you and being taller than a prince is never a good thing.”
“I don’t know about that. I think tall women are very alluring,” said Henry.
“You do,” she said, brightening up.
“Yes,” he said.
“Even if they tower over you like I do?”
“The taller the better,” he said.
“Well I don’t think you will ever find anyone taller than me, so why are you in such a hurry to leave?”
“Because you are wrong about that; there is a woman taller than you and I am on a quest to find her.”
“Really?” she asked.
“Really,” he answered.
“That’s so romantic. How tall is she?”
“She’s taller than you by a head,” Henry said.
“Then you must be on your way to find her.”
“Thank you for understanding,” he said, rising to his feet.
She rose to her feet too, looked down on him, bid him farewell and told him she would never forget him and that she hoped he would succeed in his quest to find the very tall lady and live happily ever after. He thanked her, made his way out of the Viscount’s residence and rejoined Guy, who was standing outside holding the palfreys and mule, and feeding his goat a carrot.
“Let’s go while the going is good,” said Henry.
“She wasn’t the one I assume,” Guy said.
“No, and I want to get out of here before I have to tell anymore lies,” said Henry.
“Sometimes telling lies is the only thing you can do,” said Guy.
“Is that so,” said Henry, saddling up.
“That’s so, especially when you are sparing peoples’ feelings,” said Guy, saddling up too.
“How do you know I was lying to do that?” asked Henry.
“Because I know you,” said Guy.
On that note they put the residence of the Viscount of Montreuil behind them and headed for the ferry which would take them across the River Oise and to the next lady on Henry’s list; the pack mule in tow and the goat – now off its tether – following in their wake.
They reached the crossing just as the ferry departed for the other side and they had to cool their heels. As they were cooling their heels a merchant with a pasty face and a floppy hat arrived with a cart full of his wares. He pulled the reins on his nag as he came up to them and asked if they were interested in buying a bolt of wool cloth.
“Do we look like we need a bolt of wool cloth?” asked Guy.
“No, but It never hurts to ask. Where are you bound?” asked the merchant.
“Where are you?” countered Guy.
“To greener pastures. No one on this side of the river is interested in my wool, which is a shame because it is very finely woven and I’m selling it at a discount.”
“Perhaps no one is interested in your wool because your competitors have beaten you to the punch,” said Guy.
“Ah, my competitors; they are the bane of my existence. If it weren’t for them I would be swimming in coin. As it is I don’t even have the two deniers for my ferry passage.”
“Then how are you going to get across?” asked Guy.
“I don’t know. Maybe the ferryman will accept a promise that I will pay him later.”
“Would you accept such a promise for your wares?” Guy asked.
“Certainly not; that would be bad business.”
“Then why would you expect the ferryman to?” asked Guy.
“Because he is only selling his services and I am selling goods,” explained the merchant.
“But it’s the same principle,” said Henry, jumping in.
“That may be, but giving my goods away on a promise could cost me dear while giving me a ride across the river – even if I never honored my promise – would cost the ferryman nothing.”
“Nothing but his labor and the setting of precedent that he is an easy mark,” Prince Henry said.
The man at the center of their debate arrived with his ferry and discharged a tinker and his wagon onto the shore.
“How is business on the other side?” asked the merchant of the tinker.
“As good as can be expected; there is always someone who needs a pot mended,” said the tinker.”
“And have you encountered any merchants selling their goods?” the merchant asked.
“Only in the market town of Sossions; they hold their market days every Tuesday,” said the tinker.
“Were any merchants selling bolts of wool cloth there?”
“I don’t know, I was too busy tinkering to notice,” said the tinker.
“Thank you. By the way, would you be interested in a bolt of wool cloth. I have some very nice cloth that is as blue as your eyes,” said the merchant.
“I’ve no need for a bolt of cloth, blue or otherwise. Fare thee well,” said the tinker, going on his way.
“Come on!” said the ferryman to the merchant, having waited long enough for him.
The merchant boarded the ferry, joining Henry and Guy.
“That will be two deniers,” said the ferryman.
The merchant made a show of checking his pockets and coming up empty.
“Two deniers,” repeated the ferryman.
“I seem to be bereft of coin at the moment. But if you will give me credit I will settle with you upon my return from Sossions.
“Two deniers or you can get off my ferry,” said the ferryman.
“Be reasonable. Is it not better to give me passage and accept payment later than to leave me stranded on this side of the river and have no prospect of making a profit off me?”
“For the last time, that will be two deniers,” the ferryman said.
“Here, I will pay his passage,” said Henry, giving the ferryman two deniers.
The ferryman took the two deniers and started pulling on rope which was tied around a big cottonwood tree on the other side of the river. Slowly the ferry began to move toward the opposite shore.
“I am in your debt and at the first opportunity I will recompense you with interest,” said the merchant.
“There is no need to recompense me. Hopefully your business will prosper and someday you will be in a position to help someone who is in a pinch,” said Henry.
“If I prosper I will certainly do so, provided I prosper enough.”
“How much is enough?” asked Guy.
“Well, in truth one can never prosper enough. That is the creed I go by.”
“Isn’t having a fine home, food on the table and clothes on your back prosperity enough?” asked Guy.
“Not nearly,” answered the merchant.
“Well what if you added a good amount of land under tillage and a sack of gold coins stashed away in a safe place,” said Guy.
“Still not enough,” the merchant said.
“Would owning a fleet of merchant ships do it then?” asked Guy.
“How about coming into possession of a gold mine with inexhaustible reserves?”
“That is getting close,” said the merchant.
“Yes; you see prosperity can be a fragile thing and you can never have too much of it. Suppose my house burned down. Suppose a drought came and ruined my crops under tillage. Suppose I forgot where I stashed my coins and my fleet was lost in a storm and there was a catastrophic cave in at my mine: what would I do then?”
“Start all over, I guess,” said Guy.
“Exactly; and who wants to start all over after being prosperous but not prosperous enough,” said the merchant as the ferryman toiled to earn his deniers.
“I see your point. But what if everyone lived by your creed?”
“Then everyone would be prosperous or on the verge of prosperity.”
“I don’t think that would be possible,” said Guy.
“Why not?” asked the merchant.
“Because there is not enough to go around for everyone to prosper to the extent you are saying,” said Guy.
“Perhaps, at any rate there is enough to make some people immensely prosperous, and I intend to be one of them,” concluded the merchant who hadn’t had the two deniers for his passage on the ferry.
My Review of Ardennia
I’m rather fond of all things fairy-tale retellings and inspired, so when Ardennia crossed my desk, I jumped on it. Off the top, this was a humorous and fascinating read. Calhoun has great comedic timing and a way with words that either leaves you chuckling or forces you to stop, think, go back, reread, and then laugh out loud. There’s a fair amount of wordplay and literary style to this, and I enjoyed watching it unfold.
I could call this a quick read. It is fairly short and didn’t take very long. On the other hand, I feel like there are many layers and that I could find something new with each reread. While I ultimately enjoyed this, it didn’t quite strike me as a book I’d read and read again. I may go back to it at some point to inspect those layers I mentioned, but I can’t say when.
All in all, I recommend to fans of fairy tales, literary pros, and subtle but dedicated humor. This is evidently first in a series, so if you enjoy this one, there’s more to come.
About Bruce Calhoun
Working passage on a tramp freighter, fending off White Tipped oceanic sharks on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, filming lowland gorillas in Africa, capsizing a sailboat in the Bermuda Triangle, mushing sled dogs in Alaska, teaching marine biology in Puerto Rico, exploring the Amazon, founding Save the Rainforest in 1988, and writing an award winning play, an autobiography and Ardennia are but a few of the highlights in my life. Currently I am serving as president of Save the Rainforest and living a rather sedate life in Southwestern Wisconsin with my beloved wife.
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