Saturday, February 11, 2012

The Fate of a Crown

I've written before about how L. Frank Baum used pen names to write other works. He wrote four novels for adults: Tamawaca Folks as John Estes Cooke, The Last Egyptian anonymously, and Daughters of Destiny and The Fate of a Crown as Schuyler Stanton.

When I began avidly collecting Baum books, there were editions of Tamawaca Folks (a small publisher's version) and The Last Egyptian out. And Daughters of Destiny was in Oz-Story 4 and Hungry Tiger Press brought it out as a standalone volume, and I have both. But no one had a nice version of The Fate of a Crown. David Maxine expressed interest in publishing it, however there were some issues preventing a quick release.

The Fate of a Crown was illustrated twice. Once by John R. Neill for newspaper serialization, and again by Glen C. Sheffer for the book version published by Reilly & Britton. A worthwhile new edition would include both sets of illustrations. David recently mentioned to me that Neill's artwork would take a lot of work to clean up, and the print on demand edition I finally bought from recently shows that. The artwork is obviously from a low-resolution source. At a small size (and some are too small), it looks okay, but when it gets blown up to more than half a page, you can see the pixels. That being said, if a full-scale cleanup can be done, I would be interested in purchasing it.

There's another edition of Lulu, but that one was hardcover only and just used scans of the Reilly & Britton edition (one without the illustrations). The one I bought had the text newly reset and used both sets of illustrations. I like when a new edition takes advantage of today's publishing methods to present a book. Reset text means you don't see a lot of empty space on the page where the original publisher had it, plus even more space to allow for the new page size.

Final notes on the edition I bought: not a fan of having "(Schuyler Staunton)" under Baum's name. Just put Baum's name on it and make a mention of it on the reverse of the title page. And it's kind of pointless noting that the book is copyrighted to the Reilly & Britton Company in 1905 when the copyright has long since expired. Also, the spine and back cover are kind of bland.

All right, onto the story...

It's 1889 and young Robert Harcliffe is off to Brazil to serve as secretary to the elderly Dom Miguel de Pintra. Dom Miguel is for the revolution against the Emperor of Brazil to make the country into the United States of Brazil, and as such, he has many enemies, and as it becomes clear that Robert is working for him, they become Robert's enemies, too.

Robert falls in love with Dom Miguel's daughter Lesba as he becomes embroiled in the rebellion's cause. However, things get complicated when Dom Miguel is locked in an airtight vault and the key is carried away by a spy for the Emperor! With only a few hours of air, it doesn't appear Dom Miguel will survive until Robert can retrieve the key. But can Robert see Dom Miguel's business through? Who are his friends and who are his foes?

The Fate of a Crown is an exciting novel of intrigue and a little dash of underdeveloped romance. And the ending actually surprised me when I considered it was proud American L. Frank Baum writing it. I was also surprised at how quickly Baum would kill or injure characters. I jokingly told David Maxine that his version should have a counter in the margins for the body count.

Baum's fantasies were for children. It is here in his non-fantasy works for adults that Baum shows us how dark his imagination could be. To get a better grasp of who Baum was, his adult novels are essential reading.

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