A Wizard in Rhyme

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A Wizard in Rhyme is a fantasy series by Christopher Stasheff, combining Medieval European Fantasy with Deconstruction, historical accuracy and a lot of troping. It is currently eight books long.

Our protagonist is Matthew Mantrell, Ordinary Graduate Student, English major and general intellectual, working on his doctorate during The Present Day (presumably The Eighties, as that's when the first book was published). During his researches he comes across a piece of parchment covered in a language unknown to man. It turns out to be a Summon Everyman Hero spell that whisks him to "Merovence," the France of an Alternate History Europe still in The High Middle Ages. Once there, he makes a number of discoveries.

  • Functional Magic exists, is controlled by rhymed verse, and co-exists with normal physics. Matthew, having a good six hundred years' extra knowledge to draw upon in both fields, is enormously powerful by the standards of the day.
  • God and Satan exist, bringing with them Black and White Morality and the necessity of picking a side. Both forces offer power--evil in the form of Deals with Devils, good in the form of saints--and one must be sure to stay on the good side of your moral compass in order to avoid defeat both in the afterlife and here. (Morality is Christian-flavored, which is appropriate for medieval Europe but may result in Values Dissonance to some readers.)
  • Saint Moncaire, patron of Merovence, brought Matthew here to restore the Balance of Good and Evil. All the other nations of Europe--Ibile, Allustria, Latruria, etc--have fallen under the reign of evil men, and a usurper, Astaulf, now threatens the throne of Merovence, aided by his Evil Chancellor Malingo. Matthew's job is to find Princess Alisande and help her reclaim her throne, thus preventing all of Europe from falling to the clutches of evil.

The series is relatively obscure--and, if truth be told, deservedly so. The books are a Cliché Storm: Matthew is set a task involving setting to rights another European country. He collects a Ragtag Bunch of Misfits as he travels, often supplementing them with Public Domain Characters created through Summon Magic; most of them fade back into obscurity, though two from the first book, the Black Knight, Sir Guy de Toutarien, and the dragon Stegoman, make repeat appearances. Matthew makes more study into the fabric of magic and Stasheff gets to soapbox about morality and virtue, whether in a Christian context or no. Main characters are flat, with secondaries having more interesting moments. So on.

The real reason tropers will want to check it out anyhow is that it is decidedly, deliberately, unabashedly Troperiffic. The Theory of Narrative Causality is in full force, and characters are Genre Savvy enough to actively invoke tropes if they stand to benefit from them (in the first book alone Princess Alisande calls upon "Underdogs Never Lose" and "The Good Guys Always Win"). The result is a Post Modern series in the trappings of an Historical Fantasy (complete with Ye Olde Butchered English, even though technically they are speaking French), a flood of classic poetry, and a series of Lampshade Hangings which can only be described as loving.

A not-especially-complete wiki on the series can be found at the author's website [dead link].

Tropes used in A Wizard in Rhyme include: