Question Quest by Piers Anthony (1991)
Xanth is a very magical realm and a complete series of fantasy books by cheeky Mr. Anthony. In this ongoing story of Xanth, it begins with a simple girl on a simple quest. She, like everyone else on Xanth, has a magical ability but that’s not the reason she’s come to ask an ancient wizard a Question. She thinks she is an old maid at thirty and perhaps the proposal she turned down when she was younger could be recaptured with his Answer.
Seems interesting enough, right? She’s a little dim, but she might have an interesting quest finding true love. Unfortunately, after finding her way to the castle of the wizard, she discovers he’s in hell trying to rescue one of his wives. Not to be deterred, she goes to hell (literally in a handbasket which should be a warning of how cheeky Mr. Anthony is).
So much for her story. When she arrives in a demon’s waiting room where the wizard has been waiting for decades, he asks her to use her powers (she can make letters appear) to write his biography. That’s when we jump into how the ancient wizard, Humprey, became the Magician of Information and king (several times) of Xanth. His early story is filled with excitement and romance and a bit of subterfuge. He marries a demoness after his true love rebukes him (her power is communing with unicorns; after a wedding night, she’d lose that ability) and becomes king.
He cleverly battles opponents and defeats them although he really has no magic abilities of his own. He does, however, have an enormous stock of potions and magic items so he can deal with most attacks on the kingdom. He has children, loses wives, gets new ones, and tries to hand off the crown at every opportunity. Thanks to the Fountain of Youth and the Pool of Health, he lives for a jolly long time.
About halfway through the book, the story becomes a simple chronology with numerous kings, their wives, and their children being introduced and as quickly ignored. I had the feeling that the writer was referring to events and people in other Xanth books and didn’t need to repeat what his regular readers already knew. It was nice to know, but I’d have preferred to learn about those adventures rather than have the abridged version.
So now the quest is for Humphrey to rescue his second wife, Rose, from hell. He’s got a little complication in that he’s currently married to a Gorgon and hasn’t decided how to deal with having two wives. He does need someone to match his pairs of socks so it might all work out for the best.
The cheekiest part is when Humphrey visits his family’s tic farm (they grow the tics that go with the tocks in clocks) and discovers they’ve mutated. He’s forced to deal with fran-tics, an-tics, at-tics (not really a problem since they tend to settle beneath the roof), and a boatload of other tics. Silly but fun. There are all sorts of word-plays and even some mention of our world, Mundania. Fun and I may have to read some more Xanth books about demons, zombies, ghosts, flying horses, wizards, sirens, gorgans, storm kings, and a plethora of other proper nouns.