This post of Pauper King by Author E Stuart Marlowe has been adapted from two previous posts. First is the spoiler free review followed by the spoiler full review and summary.
Thank you to E Stuart Marlowe for providing me with a copy of Pauper King in exchange for this honest review. And know that my criticism about the book is about anti-feminist literature and not against him as a person.
Spoiler Free Review
Pauper King is the story of Johannes, Snow White’s father and former King of un-named fairy tale land. Snow White has been brutally murdered, there will be 9 more, and Johannes puts together a rag tag team of misfits to solve the crime before more victims fall.
The story includes many references to popular story book characters such as Beauty and the Beast, Rapunzel, Bluebeard, etc. There are also witches, ogres, magic, and any number of dangerous journeys.
Unfortunately, it does not develop those characters past their name recognition. Most of the name drops are simply in place to count a victim. We’re supposed to recognize the victim and care because we know the names, it takes out any effort of doing any actual characterization.
The pacing of the book is odd to say the least. The killer is revealed to the reader within the first third of the novel but the “heroes” don’t discover it until near the end. This leads to a frustrating reading experience in which Johannes gathers clues but incompetently attempts to put them together in a futile attempt to save anyone’s life.
The book reads like a Dungeon and Dragons campaign that includes too many side quests. The characters get distracted along the way to their goals but the “villain” conveniently pauses their carnage to wait for them to return. It’s baffling.
You may have noticed that I’ve put “heroes” and “villain” in quotes. The characters that the book identifies as the heroes are incompetent and are completely incapable of saving anyone but themselves.
The “villain” in the book is who I honestly identify as the sole respectable character in the book. Read the spoiler full review below for much much more on this. I can’t get into why here without giving away the reveal.
Above all else, the book is sexist. My main complaint is that almost every female character in the book is a murder victim. Snow White was fridged right from the beginning.
[Fridging is when a, typically female, character is killed off for the sole purpose of driving the male heroes motivations.]
The main female character who isn’t murdered is demoted from warrior princess to housekeeper sex object. Once again for the sole purpose of keeping our male hero happy.
And the other female characters are… giant huge spoilers please keep reading below to find out.
In addition to many problematic female characters there are several issues with the themes and morals that are portrayed through the story. Harmful stereotypes are plentiful and by the end it seems that the lesson is that women need to “know their place.”
Look, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, SMASH THE PATRIARCHY.
When I closed the last page of this book I set it down and just shook my head for a minute. I literally thought to myself, “this book stands for everything I’m against.”
I’m very disappointed that I have to write a review like this about a book that was written so recently. It shows how far we still have to go to not only take down anti-feminist literature but to even recognize it. I see many positive reviews about this book, some from women, and am shocked that they either don’t see it or don’t care.
I’m begging all of you to think critically about what you read. Don’t get lost in the easy comfort of fairy tale names and cliches, think about how it portrays people and how harmful that can be to society.
Clearly, I do not recommend this book.
Pauper King Summary
Pauper King is a story about Johannes, who used to be King and now is a Pauper. Why? We never really find out. He abdicated his throne to his son but it’s never quite clear why that means he has to live in a shack in the woods.
The book involves a lot of classic fairy tale characters and is reminiscent of other such projects like Once Upon a Time, Fable, or my favorite The Wolf Among Us. (It’s an awesome video game that you should definitely check out).
Johannes’s daughter, Snow White, is murdered. She had been living with the dwarves for some time now. She left her princess throne to marry one of the little guys, Petir, and live in their mining shack.
She was brutally murdered with a pick axe. Soon after discovering her body they get word that Hansel and Gretel have also been murdered. Their’s appears to be more magical in nature and it is then they notice that there have been markings at both murder sites. The killer is counting down from 10.
I want to make no mistake about this, the murders in this book are brutal. I actually quite enjoyed the gory details. As a horror hound I can always appreciate a good death, this book does have them.
Clearly, former King Johannes and the dwarf Petir are the men to solve this case. Makes perfect sense that a former King and a mining dwarf would team up to solve crime. By the way, I’m sarcastic, hope you figured that out. They of course partner with der Burgermeister, meaning Mayor in Deutsche. Ja Ich spreche ein bisschen Deutsche, betcha didn’t know that!
So the Pauper King, the dwarf, and the mayor are joined by a pair of warrior twins and they set out to figure out who the murderer is before he or she kills again. They decide the mandatory next step is to secure the aid of elves so they set off on a dangerous mission to find them.
Why are the elves necessary? Something about being the eyes of the land I think… It’s honestly never that clear and they never really do anything later in the story that no one else couldn’t have done so I think it was just a reason for them to go on their first Dungeons and Dragons campaign.
They face some trials and the male twin warrior kills a riddling witch, he’ll be cursed soon because of it. But they secure the aid of the elves and have successfully wasted about 3 days of clue finding time.
Upon their return they discover Rapunzel murdered. Nobody seems to care though because apparently she had been living as a prostitute and whores’ lives don’t matter. Her murder has been numbered but it skipped one so there is likely another body yet to be found.
Cinderella is next on the chopping block, a slow death of lower limb amputation.
This murderer is moving at a fast pace and our heroes have already fallen way behind. But don’t worry! There’s still time for romance!
Johannes and Fenn, the female twin warrior and the only not murdered female character so far, become romantically involved. And here is where the book starts to really fall apart.
It becomes clear that Fenn is not the badass warrior woman I thought she’d be. Turns out she really is only present to be the love interest for our “protagonist” Johannes. Once her and Johannes get involved her duties quickly dissolve into sex object, house keeper, maiden in waiting. Her sole purpose is now taking care of this man.
It is also at this point that the book reveals the killer to the reader. A very early reveal that derails the book from its mystery plot entirely. We discover that Carmella, sister to Johannes’ late wife, is on a revenge plot to avenger her sister’s murder. Carmella’s sister was murdered publicly at a witch execution.
Carmella is portrayed as your standard evil witch. Murders with magic and even rides a broomstick. It’s very clear we’re supposed to see her as the villain. But for many reasons I think she’s the unsung hero of this story. We’ll get into it as we go along.
Her next victim is her ex, Beast. She kills him but spares Beauty. But she doesn’t want Beauty to tell who she is so she scrambles her brain a bit with a curse. Unfortunately, Beauty in this universe was an idiot to begin with so no one thinks much of it.
I really hate this characterization of Beauty. In this land she’s only a pretty face. And one that is objectified constantly throughout the rest of the book. It’s also implied that she would have to be an idiot to stay with the abusive Beast. I find that incredibly insulting to all of the real victims of domestic abuse. It comes off as victim blaming and diminishes the actual problem.
At this point in the book the murder mystery has been stalled in order to focus on Fenn’s cursed brother and Johannes grieving the daughter he never cared about until after she died. The pacing in this book is bizarre.
They finally hold Snow White’s funeral and discover the missing victim, Tom Thumbe. This almost puts the mystery back on track but Johannes is a bad detective.
It’s extremely frustrating as a reader to know who the killer is at this point in the story. We can see Johannes picking up all of the right clues but he doesn’t know how to put them together.
Flash sideways to what Carmella is up to. She’s at a stereotypical witch ritual that I think is supposed to display her as evil. They’re having a good time lesbian orgy with implied beastiality and cannibalism. I know it’s supposed to be a bad thing because they’re eating human babies. This pretty much clues me in to that I’m not supposed to like Carmella.
With the murder mystery completely abandoned our rag tag team of sleuths have concluded that the murders have been performed by a witch and they need outside help. They bring in some witch hunters who apparently think a witch is any woman who doesn’t know her place.
Yes, this is unfortunately somewhat historically accurate. No, that doesn’t mean that’s how we have to play things in modern literature.
With the witch hunters taking the reigns Johannes goes home to rest. There he finds former warrior Fenn waiting for him. She’s cleaned his whole house while wearing a skimpy red dress and was just waiting to take him skinny dipping. I seriously didn’t exaggerate this scene at all.
Fenn went from badass warrior with swords and arrows and being a valuable member of the team to housekeeping in lingerie. If you can read that and still think this book isn’t anti-feminist you’ve got some soul searching to do and I can’t help you.
After their tryst in the pond, wasting valuable time, the team decides now that they need a Sorcerer.
On the way to said Sorcerer they face some more D&D campaign trials. Carmella is in tow disguised as Johannes’ dog. Why? Unclear.
The Sorcerer is keeping Ariel, the little mermaid of the stories, captive with an amulet. Late at night Carmella sneaks into his room, steals the amulet, and sets Ariel free. I’m sorry, how is she the villain again? I know she’s supposed to be the villain in this story yet she just performed the only honorable action out of any of the characters. Are we supposed to think that setting a slave free is a bad thing? I’m confused.
Part of the Sorcerer’s duties is to free the party members of their various curses. Beauty’s curse is easily removed. By repeated, forceful, kissing. Basically, he suggests sexually assaulting her until she’s well again. And the team is on board with this plan. They even argue about who will get the pleasure of forcing themselves on her pretty face.
Just to sum up, villain of the story sets a slave free and the heroes sexually assault one of their own. Got it?
They return home to find the witch hunters are torturing people. One thing I can say for Johannes, he is at least anti torture, in theory. He’s unwilling to actually take action to stop it but he at least thinks it’s bad.
The conflict of the novel has now shifted entirely. We have no new murders to solve because Carmella has conveniently taken a break while they now focus on stopping the witch hunters before every woman is murdered.
The murders done by the witch hunters are described in near pornographic detail. It’s a fine line between torture porn and actually getting off on describing the murder of women, I’m not sure this book walks that line well at this point.
Beauty is captured by the witch hunters and murdered for witchery. Conveniently, she has her communication skill restored so that her final word can be Carmella. So all those clues were for nothing, this team of heroes needed to be flat out told who the killer was.
The team is quite mad about Beauty being murdered. However, among the murders of innocent women Johannes witnessed the murder of an actual witch so he hesitates to think it’s all bad.
This actual witch took quite a lot to kill. This brings me to a very important point. Why in the actual hell do these witches not defend themselves? This world has real witches with real powers. Strong powers, murder powers, as Carmella has already shown. So why in the world would one of them allow themselves to just be killed without a fight?
Okay, so the witch hunters get banned in a stupid way that’s anti-climactic which opens up the plot for another Carmella murder. Things happen very linearly in this book. Plots politely take turns regardless of if it makes sense or not.
Goldilocks is the victim, if you even care at this point.
Some stuff happens and Johannes and Fenn end up at the castle with Johannes’ son and current King. He wins for coolest death of the book after he’s cursed to an insatiable hunger which eventually causes him to eat his own body.
By now there’s only one murder left on the countdown. This team has failed spectacularly in their mission.
On the other side of the land Carmella’s coven is finally getting organized. They plan on revolting against the society that murders them indiscriminately. Remember, they gleefully murdered witches who were just living their lives without harming anyone. So they’re standing up to an oppressive society, as they should. Rise up witches!
War is waged. I’m fully in support of team witch. They’ve been outcast and persecuted and have the power to take over. The book makes it pretty clear that I’m not supposed to be rooting for them but how am I going to not root for a team of strong women finally fighting their oppressors?
Carmella and Johannes face off in the final battle. Carmella essentially shouts “smash the patriarchy!” and Johannes traps her for eternity in a mirror. Booooo!
The elves then kill all the “bad” witches and the whole land rejoices over their dead bodies in piles. #notallwitches
Johannes and Fenn are to be wed and move into the castle for their happy ending. The end.
This ending basically stands for everything I’m against. It’s pro sexist traditional gender roles, and pro patriarchy. It’s anti female empowerment and anti rebellion.
The hero of this story was Carmella and she was brought to a tragic end by a disgraced King. Let’s look at her story for a second:
Carmella’s sister was publicly executed in a humiliating and agonizing way. She decides to get revenge on the land that rejoiced in her death. Along the way she sets free a slave who was doomed to service a man for the rest of her life. She then organizes a rebellion of repressed minorities and fights the government that destroyed her family and her way of life. She’s martyred for her cause. She’s a role model.
If the story followed her and didn’t characterize her as a baby eating monster it would’ve been a great book. But it didn’t. It paints her as a monster and the one other dominant female character as a hero for understanding her place as subservient to a man.
Clearly, I do not endorse this book. If you’ve made it all the way through this review I hope you understand how harmful anti-feminist literature can be. Many people read these books and don’t even see the tropes. Or don’t understand how they perpetuate so many negative stereotypes.
They see the fantasy elements and enjoy them, detached from what it all means. I encourage everyone to read analytically and be more discriminating in the books you choose. And always call out anti-feminist or racist or otherwise bigoted material.
1/5 bowls of gruel 🍜
This is where I normally include an affiliate link for you to buy the book and I get a small commission. I encourage you to not buy anti-feminist literature.
Instead of Pauper King check out The Purest Form of Chaos, a much more enlightened fantasy novel.