I ran across a copy of The Prince of Ill Luck in a southern California bookstore I'd never been to before. The year was 1994. I went in in an attempt to prove to a skeptical friend that the smell upon first entering a bookstore is one of the true pleasures of life. That you have to pause just after walking in and savor it. Pressed pages and promise. It's a heady combination, my friends. The book had just come out and was faced out on the shelf. I bought it because I liked the boy on the cover and the blurb on the front declaring it to be a delightfully funny book. I was in the mood for some laughter. As luck would have it it turned out to be a two birds with one stone scenario as I was not only rewarded for my impulse buy but managed to prove my point to my friend. He closed his eyes and let out that happy sigh. You know the one. All in all, an incredibly satisfying outing.
Leith is a prince. But that's where the blessings stop. He is also cursed with ill luck. The kind of ill luck that not only affects him on a minute by minute basis, but bleeds over onto any companions or random strangers in his general vicinity. After singlehandedly destroying a temple (well, it was actually an earthquake but the villagers were certain he caused it) and getting himself shipwrecked off the coast of Esdragon, Leith finds himself the unexpected owner of a rather singular stallion called Valadan. The stallion does not seem to mind Leith's deplorable luck and, what's more, he seems to be able to communicate his thoughts to Leith via some sort of spiritual connection. In an effort to hang onto the remarkable warhorse, Leith climbs to the top of a glass mountain retrieving the gold ring at the top. But in true Leith fashion this single act rains down what is undoubtedly the worst his curse has to offer. By retrieving the ring Leith finds himself betrothed to the most displeased of princesses--Kessalia. She had set the task certain no one would ever be able to complete it and she would never have to marry. Leith cannot fathom wanting to marry the beautiful harpy and agrees to release her from their engagement if she allows him to accompany her on her search for her witch mother. You see Leith is harboring the secret hope that the witch will be able to relieve him of his curse.
This book is, first and foremost, delightfully funny. It's humor is its most endearing quality. The reader's sympathies entirely belong to the hapless and loyal Leith. And Valadan the warhorse is wonderfully mystical and powerful. Kess is another matter entirely. I have to say I loved how prickly she was. I mean I hated her, really despised her at times. But I loved hating her, you know? And Susan Dexter writes her characters so skillfully that you absorb their background, their motivations, their hopes and fears in such a slow and seamless way that it's a delight and not a burden accompanying the spiteful Kess and the dogged Leith on their journey. There are no clear heroes and heroines here. Leith is not particularly powerful or strong. Kess is certainly no bed of roses. But she's so magnificent in her heinousness that it's pure entertainment watching her scratch and claw her way to what she wants, even if it means sabotaging or attempting to poison Leith. Poor guy. As I said, you feel an affinity for him from the start. The magic is mysterious, the world is interesting, and the romance is...not what you'd expect. In a good way. These two are good and truly opposites. They don't belong alongside the more predictable bicker-and-smolder set. Theirs is a relationship that has to be bought and you will have to be the judge of whether, in the end, the price is too high. This book is the first in the Warhorse of Esdragon Trilogy. Reading order: The Prince of Ill Luck, The Wind-Witch, and The True Knight. All three are out of print but availabe used quite cheap. I recommend all three.
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