Well, here we are again. I don't do text reviews nearly as often as I do video reviews, but quite frankly, keeping my writing chops in check with this couldn't hurt. And hey--today's episode is kind of a long-overdue sequel to a book I've already talked about. Two years ago. Maybe I was exaggerating when I said this is a regular thing...anyway, I previously covered Swedish author Jonas Jonasson's debut novel, The Hundred-Year-Old-Man Who Climbed Out The Window And Disappeared, in 2015. It's been adapted into a movie in 2013, which was released in America after that review (which I still haven't seen), but more importantly, I enjoyed that book so much that I wanted to check out more from this author. And luckily, he had another novel out, which I bought on Audible--before I had to cancel my subscription. And then renew it again. But though it took me a while to get around to finishing it, I finally have, and--it's good, but it's not as good as his first novel.
Much like the previous novel, The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden is a historical fiction/comedy novel, though this leans more toward the dramatic most of the time. It all started with one actual fact--a historical oddity, if you will. On June 14, 2007. the king of Sweden and the Prime Minister went missing from a gala banquet at the royal castle. Later, it was said that both had fallen ill. But according to Jonas Jonasson, the truth is far stranger--and if anything, he proves that a good writer can make a story from the smallest of prompts.
The story of The Girl Who Saved The King of Sweden begins in 1961, when a South African girl named Nombeko Mayeki was born in Soweto, deep in the middle of apartheid. Nombeko, being black, started out at the bottom of the barrel--literally, as in her first job ever was cleaning out latrines. However, one day she ended up run over by a drunken engineer who worked for Africa's secret nuclear weapons facility, and upon her survival, moved up to work in the base as a cleaning lady. Nombeko, from an early age, was very quick-witted and precocious--and thus is able to cover for her lazy boss a lot of the time while learning every bit of knowledge she can. And it helps this story sound more plausible that this base really did exist--it manufactured six atomic bombs in the 1980's, but they were voluntarily dismantled in 1994. But according to this novel, due to the idiocy of the engineer, a seventh atomic bomb was manufactured. The engineer tried to cover his mistake by selling the bomb to Israel, but he was instead murdered for knowing too much. Nombeko, however, managed to trick her way out of the country safely, though the Mossad agents were still pursuing her.
How does Sweden fit into all this, you may ask? Well, for that we need to back up to the other half of the story, which follows the radical Republican Ingmar. Ingmar grew up fighting against the monarchy for pretty petty reasons, and when he and his wife were finally able to have children, he wanted them to inherit his cause. But due to Ingmar's stupidity, he figured he only needed one of his twin sons to be his heir, calling them Holger and Holger. Officially, only one Holger existed--but he stayed at home with his father plotting the monarchy's downfall while Holger 2 attended school and did everything to keep the police off his father's back, while not officially being allowed to exist. Ingmar and his wife, however, both end up dying very ironic deaths, leaving the well-educated Holger 2 and his brother, who had his father do all the thinking for him, to fend for themselves. At that point, the two cross paths with Nombeko and Holger 2 takes a liking to her, the two eventually falling in love. But due to the interference of some of Nombeko's friends, the atomic bomb accidentally ends up in Nombeko's possession--and they have to do everything they can to keep it out of the hands of Holger 1 and his anarchist girlfriend.
It might seem from that description that this novel leans more toward the dramatic, and it does--but that doesn't mean the insanity from the first novel isn't present. In this novel, we have a potato-growing countess, a dead man committing suicide, and the titular king-saving--which spoilers, happens pretty near the end of the book, and is over fairly quickly. I won't say I dislike the humor, though--the way Holger 1 ends up dispatching one of the two Mossad agents is particularly hilarious, and I won't spoil it. And the satire is still on point--a particularly swift yet biting passage mentions how Dubya 'sent his army to destroy the weapons of mass destruction Iran didn't have.' Once again, if none of this happened, it's still well-researched enough so that you almost believe it could.
Unfortunately, the book doesn't quite measure up to its predecessor in one particular way--the characters. In 100-Year-Old Man, the main characters, while they had shades of grey, were all likeable enough, and the bad guys were the ones who ended up getting their karmic just desserts. However, in this novel, the characters' greatest obstacles are themselves--or rather, two of their number who just won't stop being obstacles. I won't mince words with you--Holger 1, while he has his moments, is so overbearingly annoying throughout this book that I gave an audible (ha!) sigh whenever he came back onscreen. It's his own beliefs and his own lack of tact that ends up getting them into trouble most of the time. True, Nombeko calls him out for his actions, but he's so stupid that he never benefits from it. And even worse, fairly early into the book, he gets an anarchist girlfriend who's even MORE annoying. And I don't mean a complex anarchist character like Zaheer from The Legend of Korra--no no, I mean the 'entitled brat who's an anarchist for the sake of having something to complain about' type. She's obnoxious, loud, and even most of the characters say that she is. I could almost literally hear her screeching voice in my head as I was listening to the book, though thankfully the performance isn't as obnoxious. I think it's read by the same person who read 100-Year-Old-Man, though in both cases the narrator was uncredited. He has a nice voice, though, so that helped. But the whole time, you're waiting for these characters to get their comeuppance--and spoiler alert, they never do. Sure, eventually Nombeko and Holger 2 do get together, but Holger 1 and the anarchist girl just get to go on doing what they do. They say Nombeko is smart, but if she were, what I would have done at the first opportunity is ditch these two somewhere. I couldn't stand to have them around.
Sadly, because of that, I can't say that The Girl Who Saved The King of Sweden lives up to the standard Jonas Jonasson's first novel set. It's a screwball, pseudo-historical comedy, sure, but it's not as good. It's good enough to check out if you're curious, though--but I'd be more likely to recommend The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window And Disappeared over The Girl Who Saved The King of Sweden. Some writers can have hit after hit, but this one sadly did not hit as hard.
That's all for this edition of The Book Revue. But although this book was disappointing, I'll say in advance that the next book I'm considering reviewing is quite the opposite. In fact--I think it could stand alongside The Dresden Files.