One of the funniest books I've read for a long time.
As with his "Derlavi" and "Dettina" series, Turtledove has taken real events, moved them to a world with magic instead of technology, and changed the names and compass points. But where the "Derlavi" series which began with "Darkness Descending" was a very dark account of World War Two, and the "Dettina" series which began with "Sentry Peak" was an account of the American Civil war with a mixture of military history and whimsy, this story about a circus clown who managed to get himself crowned King of Albania is farce from beginning to end.
Because the outrageous events described in this book have been discreetly omitted from serious history books about the founding of the nation of Albania, I had not previously heard of them. However, it was not all that hard to recognise the background of the book as a pretty accurate account of the situation in the Balkans just before World War One, and it didn't take long to look them up. To my astonishment, I discovered that apart from the references to magic, dragons, etc the plot of the book appears to be essentially accurate.
When Albania broke away from the Ottoman Empire in 1913, they offered the throne to Halim Etti, a nephew of the Ottoman sultan. His photograph was published abroad, and a German clown called Otto Witte noticed that he closely resembled Etti. Witte arranged to have a telegram sent from Istanbul to the head of the Albanian army announcing the arrival of the prince. Then he set off for Albania with a sword-swallower called Max Schlepsig - some sources say Hoffman - playing the role of his aide-de-camp. The pair of imposters arrived in "borrowed" theatre costume uniforms and were saluted by the port authorities. They proceeded to Tirane, where Witte was crowned on 13 August and enjoyed the next five days by setting up a harem and declaring war on Montenegro.
I won't say any more about what really happened to avoid spoiling the book, but this is an absolute gem.
As with Turtledove's Dettina series, one of the most entertaining exercises for the reader is working out what the names mean - mostly country names in this case. Some are very easy and some quite hard. I won't give them all away, but two middle-difficulty examples to give an idea is that Macedonia is referred to as "Fyrom" and America as "Vespucciland."
Explanation: When Macedonia broke away from Yugoslavia they had to call themselves the "Former Yugoslav Republic Of Macedonia" or FYROM to avoid upsetting the Greeks. And of course the eponymous explorer whose gave his name to the New World continents was Amerigo Vespucci ...
If you enjoy humorous fantasy stories like those of Piers Anthony, or if you have enjoyed any of Turtledove's other more whimsical pieces, you will love this book.