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Literature / The Prince Commands

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The Prince Commands is a Ruritanian Romance by Andre Norton, first published in 1934. It is Norton's first published novel.

Michael Karl learns on his eighteenth birthday that his father was a prince of Morvania — and that now, following the death of the old king and the unexpected death soon afterward of Crown Prince Ulrich, he is the heir to the throne. Whether he wants to be or not. Even before he reaches his new homeland he is plunged into a web of intrigue.

This novel contains examples of:

  • Awesome Moment of Crowning: There is an elaborate ceremony at the end of the book, to which one participant remarks,
    "It does remind one of a circus parade, doesn't it? All it needs is an elephant."
  • Bookcase Passage: Michael Karl finds such a passage.
  • A Child Shall Lead Them: Michael Karl ascends to the throne of a Ruritanian kingdom at the age of eighteen. When Ulrich Karl, his supposedly dead cousin, shows up so that Michael Karl is not the heir, he's an even better example.
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  • Aristocrats Are Evil: mostly averted by the Duke Johann and Michael Karl himself, but mentioned and lampshaded as being the case for the Marquis of Cobentz—one of the ultimate villains.
  • Cool Horse: Michael Karl is given Lady Spitfire to carry him to the outlaw camp. She is welcomed by name, while he is ordered to explain himself.
  • Dirty Communists: Morvania's troubles started when Communist agents first arrived. The country as a whole is far too loyal to its institutions and kings to succumb, but there are always malcontents who will make trouble. By the end of the book, the communists are willing to simply start a revolution simply to cover their tracks as they escape with the state treasury.
  • Dirty Coward: Cobentz loses it when he's captured and again when he's sentenced.
  • Give Me a Sword: Michael Karl loses his horse in battle and asks for another; an officer immediately orders for a horse for His Highness.
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  • Hidden Backup Prince: Michael Karl was raised in America in total ignorance of his birth. Only when his grandfather and cousin died does he learn he was the rightful heir. (To be sure, this was the consequence of his father running away and marrying in America.)
  • Home Sweet Home: The protagonist (after many adventures) settles down to his new life in Morvania upon learning that he and his last living relative had had a misunderstanding, and that he was welcome to stay.
  • King Incognito: The bandit known as The Werewolf, a prime suspect in the death of Crown Prince Ulrich Karl who makes no secret of his dislike for the royal family, is Ulrich Karl, using that role to build a loyal army while also posing as an American journalist to ferret out traitors among the nobility.
  • Nerves of Steel: Michael Karl impresses The Werewolf by laughing and bantering when he's first taken captive.
  • Overly Long Name: Michael Karl's full name is Michael Karl Johann Stefan Rene Eric Marie Karloff, followed by a long list of titles.
  • Real Name as an Alias: Michael Karl uses this while passing himself off as the American friend of the prince.
  • Rightful King Returns: Ulrich Karl.
  • Royals Who Actually Do Something: The Morvanian royal family as a whole. The former king was actually assassinated while leading action against Communist saboteurs.
  • Ruritania: The Prince Commands takes place in "Morvania" in the early 1930s. The Air Force consists of one barely-flyable plane, and horse cavalry is still a viable force because machine guns are rare and armored cars or tanks not available. The conspirators against the throne include a Communist agitator; the old king had been a brutal tyrant; and the rightful new king, after dodging an assassination attempt, is Faking the Dead and pretending to be a bandit chieftain, rebel, and werewolf. Despite its small size, the place is apparently strategic enough that the main character, newly designated as Crown Prince, has to make state appearances in Paris, London, and Berlin on his way to Morvania (he'd grown up in the U.S., and ignorant of his heritage, too).
  • Seeking Sanctuary: Michael Karl finds the enemy in the cathedral. They have murdered the archbishop, and he refuses to honor their claim of sanctuary on that ground.
  • Short Title: Long, Elaborate Subtitle: The Prince Commands: Being Sundry Adventures of Michael Karl, Sometime Crown Prince & Pretender to the Throne of Morvania
  • Spare to the Throne: Michael Karl didn't have a clue he was of the Morvanian royal family until he was eighteen, when his guardian introduced him to some visiting nobles with the words, "This is His Royal Highness." And then they told him that his grandfather the King had been assassinated, and the Crown Prince died in an ... accident ... before he could be crowned, and guess who's next up for the throne?
  • Trust Password: "Yellow roses."
  • Try to Fit THAT on a Business Card!: Michael Karl's full official is Michael Karl Johann Stefan Rene Eric Marie, Prince and Lord of Rein, First Lord of the Kingdom, Duke of Casnov, Count of Urnt, Baron of Kelive, plus several others, including colonelcy of three different units.
  • Two Aliases, One Character: One of the characters Michael meets after escaping from the bandit called The Werewolf turns out to be the Werewolf in another guise. And the Werewolf himself is actually Ulrich Karl.
  • Unexpected Successor: Michael Karl was never told about his royal heritage because it was assumed it would never be an issue, what with there being a sufficient number of not-disgraced members of the royal family ready to keep the line going. Then they all die, leaving the American cousin as the only heir.
  • Villainous Valor: Lukrantz risks his life for a safe conduct order for himself and his two co-conspirators....who already have left without him.