Falstaff’s Big Gamble
by Hank Quense
ISBN-10: 098577911X. Paperback: $13.99
ASIN: B008W87OJW. Kindle: $2.99
What do you get when you toss two of Shakespeare’s tragedies in a blender with the Dungeons and Dragons Manual?
You get Falstaff’s Big Gamble by Hank Quense, an outrageous tale of a place called Gundarland and the motley crew of characters that inhabit it. This book takes the plot of Hamlet, mixes in characters and plotlines from Othello, and sets it in a mythical land of orcs, trolls, elves, and other fantastical beings.
Instead of a tragedy, Quense turns the events into absurdist comedic farce, starting with, of course, a sighting of Hamlet’s (the Crown Prince of Denmarko) dead father. From there we are introduced to a host of other individuals including Othello (a Dark Elf), Emilia (a Troll), and of course, Falstaff.
Othello, recently hired as the new head of the security forces in town, finds himself with a surly band of Trolls at his command. Whilst trying to bring order to the issue of Dwarf immigrants and thieves, he soon meets the Godmother, head of brothels and the Thieve’s Guild, and is quickly embroiled in her intrigue.
Falstaff comes to Dun Hythe after being run out of other towns for wenching and cheating at cards, and quickly puts himself right in the middle of Othello’s Dwarf issues by offering his services to the Dark Elf. While working with Othello, he’s also plotting with Pirates to gain riches.
Hamlet finds himself captaining a small fleet, commanded to help Othello put an end to the pirating. His father’s ghost follows him, still imploring him to kill the current king, Clodio, who had murdered him. Hamlet, on the other hand, would rather be beekeeping. After a minor skirmish with the pirates that is nothing more than a few arrows being exchanged between ships that both turned tail and ran, Hamlet finds himself dumped overboard and is soon picked up by Falstaff.
Othello, being hailed for his “victory” over the pirates, manages to convince the city council that the fallen walls that surround the city need to be rebuilt, using Trolls as labor. He sets them to the wall, and their brute strength makes the work go quickly.
Meanwhile, Falstaff pretends to be friends with the prince, and learns of his plight. He convinces Hamlet to do his dead father’s bidding, and offers to help him overthrow and kill the current king. Things are made much easier when Clodio drops dead from a heart attack. Hamlet, now the king, appoints his best friend Falstaff as his chief advisor. Falstaff, of course, has his own conniving plans, especially where the royal treasury is concerned. Hamlet is easily persuaded by Falstaff that Dun Hythe is going to attempt to invade Denmarko, and agrees to raise an army to fight back. Falstaff and Hamlet, along with their army, march to Dun Hythe. To their surprise, the walls, which once were falling down, are now tall and fortified.
Othello and his Trolls are armed and ready. They watch Hamlet’s army, comprised mostly of Dwarves, milling about in confusion as they realize the foolhardiness of attacking tall stone walls. They soon make the decision to leave and join up with another royal army, leaving Hamlet and Falstaff with only a small company to do battle.
Hamlet, quickly assessing the situation, realizes that Falstaff has given him bad advice and arrests him for treason, but the wily old con man gets away. Hamlet calls to Othello and offers to make things right, Othello agrees to a treaty with the king, and everything ends Happily Ever After…
And Falstaff? He rides into a new city and begins a new scheme. Just another day in the life of a rogue.
I really enjoyed this book. Quense writes with a quirky sense of humor and keeps the story moving along. He manages to take two classic tragedies and turn them into hilarity, while bringing new life to beloved immortal characters. I laughed out loud several times while reading lines like “How he admired the perseverance and tenacity his father must have had to commit suicide by suffocating himself with a pillow.”
I would recommend this to anyone who likes absurdist writing in the vein of Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett. It’s a well written, clever, light read that will keep you turning the page and wishing there was more when you get to the end.