Empress Justina Thrug's rule of Untunchilamon is on shakier ground than ever when Aldarch III, the Mutilator of Vestron, dispatches a wazir to take control from her. Can Justina remain empress, even if she manages to secure the help of the Hermit Crab?
First of all, while the Hermit Crab is both a hermit and a giant crab, he is not, in fact, a hermit crab. Just thought I'd clear the air right off the bat.
The Wazir and the Witch is the seventh entry in Hugh Cook's wonderful Chronicles of an Age of Darkness. It is closely tied with the events of the previous book, the Wishstone and the Wonder-Workers, and should be read afterwards, unlike the freeform order of the first five books in the series.
The Wazir and the Witch is told from the point of view of a historian reflecting on the events years or centuries later. Much like the last book, it was a little rocky at first. Thankfully the narrator has a Pythonesque sense of humor. I quickly lost counts of the times I caught myself grinning like a jackass.
The story is primarily one of court intrigue, with Justina maneuvering against her enemies to retain the throne. Her allies are few and many of them are from the previous book; Chegory Guy, the delectiable Olivia Qasaba, Juliet Idaho and his wife Harold, and various others, including the all powerful Hermit Crab. The Hermit Crab is a pretty interesting guy, once you get right down to it. The bad guys are also an interesting bunch, like Tin Char, Master Ek, and Jan Rat, among others. Things aren't as black and white as in many fantasy novels from late 80's and early 90's, the era this series was written in.
As always, Hugh Cook brings originality and humor to the fantasy genre. Some of the plot twists are straight out of Blackadder, with one or more of the protagonists telling outrageous lies and getting away with it, or very nearly so.
One of the subplots I found particularly interesting was a trip Downstairs, the catacombs below Untunchilamon, to find an all-powerful machine called the organic rectifier, which supposedly can grant immortality.
There are a ton of other things I want to mention but I know I'll forget some of them. There's a Cockroach Cult led by Shabble, Guest Gulkan lurking in the background, a soldier named Coleslaw Styx, a desert bandit called Jal Japone, and all sorts of other craziness.
If you like your fantasy stories a little different than the same old, same old, give Hugh Cook's Chronicles of an Age of Darkness a shot. You won't be disappointed. And if you are, shame on you!