Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The Strangely Wonderful Tale of Count Balashazy-Karen Mercury

The Strangely Wonderful Tale of Count Balashazy
Karen Mercury
Medallion, Dec 2007, $15.95
ISBN: 9781933836027

In 1828 in Madagascar, pirate captain and harbormaster exiled Hungarian Count Tomaj Balashazy rescues naturalist Dagny Ravenhurst when she fell from a tree into his lagoon. He takes her to his plantation fortress home where she explains she climbed the tree to grab a rare orchid. When he asks if he can see her, she explains she has a secret lover. Her brother Sal arrives to take her home.

Dagny supports herself, her two brothers (Sal and Zeke), and her research into the island’s unique strangely wonderful animals, by being industrialist Paul Boneaux’s paramour. She is especially interested in a scary looking lemur that the natives fear. As Dagny finds herself falling in love with poetic Tomaj, Paul is constructing a palace for his mistress Malagasy Queen Ranavalona. Soon Paul and Tomaj, already rivals for control of the island’s economy explode over Dagny; in turn the ire of the Queen ignites as she insists her boy toy remain loyal to her exclusively even if that means killing her competror for his affection.

The third Karen Mercury nineteenth century African adventure (see THE HINTERLANDS and THE FOUR QUARTERS OF THE WORLD) is an excellent historical tale in which once again the locale steals the show. The lead triangle is fully developed protagonists whose sexual activities make the equator feel like a polar cap. Using the real Queen Ranavalona, (see Keith Laidler’s book FEMALE CALIGULA RANAVALONA, THE MAD QUEEN OF MADAGASCAR for more about her), adds to the realism of a great historiographic look at Madagascar through THE STRANGELY WONDERFUL TALE OF COUNT BALASHAZY.

Harriet Klausner

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