Friday, December 11, 2009

Friday's Forgotten Books: The Prince in Waiting by John Christopher

Note: Friday’s Forgotten Books is a regular feature at pattinase, the blog of crime writer Patti Abbott. Log on each week to discover old, obscure and unfairly overlooked titles.

John Christopher made me love the end of the world. When I was a child, someone (I’ve forgotten exactly who) gave me a copy of Christopher’s Tripods Triology, a YA romp through an earth dominated by towering, three-legged, metallic creatures. The mélange of post-apocalyptic survivalism and science fiction completely captivated me, but as the years rolled on I lost track of Christopher. Seems I wasn’t the only one. Despite steadily writing under a variety of pseudonyms since the early 1950s, Christopher (whose real name is Samuel Youd) has garnered little notice. The trilogy that first attracted me remains in print, and The Death of Grass got a new edition from Penguin this year, but the majority of his oeuvre remains forgotten. That’s a shame, because his novels display an enviable economy of style and tight-as-a-drum plotting. Both are certainly on display in 1970’s The Prince in Waiting.

Summers slide by and winters linger in Winchester. Luke Perry knows this wasn’t always so, knows that the ancients enjoyed fairer skies before they offended the Spirits with their abominable machines and brought down destruction on the entire globe. Now men dwell in isolated city states, avoiding the great ruins and warring with one another for grain and gold. Laws are few but absolute. No matter how battles go, cities themselves are inviolate. The deformed, dubbed polymufs, must be destroyed if they are animals or condemned to perpetual servitude if human. And any attempt to construct a machine requires the death penalty. So say the Seers, cloaked mystics who commune with the invisible Spirits and teach men their commands. The Seers have frightened Luke at times, but now they have good news for him: His father is destined to become Winchester’s prince -- and Luke himself a prince of princes.

The Prince is remarkably seamless. Christopher rolls the action from adolescent worries to near-future exposition to royal intrigues to bone-jarring battles with nary a hitch. Indeed, even his action scenes, which often feel tacked on to many children’s reads, are organically integrated. Sharp words and clenched fists fit with Luke’s angry impulsiveness. Also, the powers that steer Winchester may not be entirely invisible, and while the ending doesn’t come as a complete surprise, it has enough of a twist to make it enjoyable. Prince is worth excavating from the ruins of history.

(Picture: CC 2009 by
The Hamster Factor)


pattinase (abbott) said...

Lovely review. I read no science fiction as a kid. I wanted my books as real as possible and consequently missed many great ones.

Terrie Farley Moran said...

I think that at least one of my grandkids would love The Prince in Waiting.

Evan Lewis said...

Sounds like those tripods were inspired by War of the Worlds. I would have loved this stuff.

I Hate Everything said...

Ahhh... yeah. I'd forgotten about John Christopher, but this is bringing it back. I read the Prince in Waiting Trilogy and the Tripods Trilogy when I was a kid, and watched the BBC TV series of the latter. All great stuff... well, the books anyway... not so sure the TV show has dated that well.

Loren Eaton said...

Critics love to revile Christopher as the father of the "cozy catastrophe" genre, but I can think of few childhood books that stuck with me as much as his. They're just a great romp through a world that's slightly busted, slighty scary and whole lot of fun.