Piers Anthony’s “Xanth” series: Apoca Lips

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Apoca Lips (2023)

[In this review I have used the actual chapter headings from the book.]

Baton
Prince Nolan Naga is the son of King Naldo Naga and Queen Mela Merwoman.

(Naldo and Mela met and married in “The Color of Her Panties”.

The last we knew of Naldo and Mela was in “Roc and a Hard Place”, when Naldo was stiill a prince. In that book, the previous king, Nabob, told Demoness Metria that Naldo’s younger sister Nada would be the next ruler of the naga, as Naldo was no longer suitable, having married Mela Merwoman.

Either King Nabob changed his mind, or there have been other circumstances, and Naldo has succeeded to the throne after all. We don’t know when this happened.)

The naga are a human/snake crossbreed species. In their natural form they have a human head and a snake’s body, but can transform into either human or snake form. Nolan, being a naga/merfolk crossbreed, can transform into human, snake or fish. Most of the time in this adventure he will be in human form, unless there is a reason to take one of his other forms.

Nolan sees a kind of wand with bat wings fly toward him and tap him on the shoulder, although there is no actual contact. Nolan has the talent of seeing imaginary things, and so is aware that this baton has no real existence.

He asks the baton a series of questions to determine what it is doing here. The baton can’t speak, but it can nod or shake its upper bulb to indicate yes or no. And eventually Nolan works out that this is the Baton of Protagonism. Nolan is the protagonist of this story; he is about to have a significant experience which will be recorded in the annals of Xanth. The baton will remain with him, hovering in the air nearby, until the adventure is done.

Nolan meets his mother at the sea; they had arranged to swim together. He tells her about the baton (which she can’t see) and that he is to be protagonist of a story. Mela says she was a protagonist once (in “The Color of Her Panties”); that’s how she met Nolan’s father.

Nolan wonders what adventure he would be involved in. Mela suggests that since Nolan is 32, it is past time for him to find a bride and produce grandchildren for her. But he must marry a princess. And he should go to Good Magician Humfrey to ask how he can find the right woman.

Then Nolan transforms into a fish, and the two of them go on their swim together.

***
Nolan approaches the Good Magician’s Castle. As usual he must tackle the Challenges. In one of these he finds himself in a labyrinth of tunnels. He provides assistance to a tribe of fire ants. In return, the queen ant promises that one of the ants will guide him out of the labyrinth.

That guide is Aurora. She is a contact telepath. She perches on his shoulder and mentally guides him out of the cave system. She tells him that she too has a mission; she must find a new home for the fire ant tribe. Maybe she will find it while travelling with him.

After successfully completing the Challenges, they arrive at the castle entrance, where they meet Wira, the Good Magician’s daughter-in-law. She takes them to MareAnne, the Good Magician’s current Designated Wife.

MareAnne can see the Baton of Protagonism; here in the castle, magic cannot be concealed. She tells Nolan that he can give instructions to the baton and it will obey him. He can, if he wishes, tell it to go to someone else and make that person the protagonist, but if so, he will lose the protection that being a protagonist brings.

The Good Magician is not available today, so MareAnne shows him to a room where he will spend the night.

When Nolan sleeps, he dreams of a woman with fiery hair and attractive legs. He asks her who she is. She says she is Aurora; this is how she would look if she were human. She flirts with him. It seems that the real Aurora has used her telepathic ability to project this image into his dream.

The next day Nolan and Aurora meet the Good Magician. Nolan asks his Question, “Who and where is my ideal woman?”

The Magician replies, “She is Apoca of the Lips tribe, currently residing in the Queendom of Thanx. You will find her there.” He adds, “Your Service is to ameliorate the Curse of Talents. You will need Apoca’s and Nimbus’s help.”

Nolan still has questions, but the Magician has turned away to his Book of Answers, effectively dismissing him.

Wira takes Nolan to a magic mirror and asks it to show Apoca. The mirror displays an attractive woman with outsized lips. There seems to be a nickelpede perched on her shoulder.

Wira escorts him back to a living room where MareAnne is present. MareAnne tells him that Apoca has visited the Good Magician’s Castle. The nickelpede, who is female, is Nimbus, Apoca’s companion, who has contact telepathy like Aurora.

Nolan says that if he and Apoca are to work together on the Curse of Talents, Apoca could be in danger. He decides to send the Baton of Protagonism to her, to protect her. He can protect himself with his sword. He tells the baton to go to Apoca and make itself apparent to her.

Apoca
Apoca and Nimbus see the baton hovering in front of them, and wonder what it is. Apoca tries to grab it, but her hand passes through it; it is illusion. It appears to tap Apoca on the shoulder. They move on, but the baton continues to hover nearby.

Apoca and Nimbus previously appeared in the story “Six Crystal Princesses”. Apoca is queen of the Lips tribe. These are all women with outsized lips who are able to kiss men and make them their love slaves. However they can also kiss without using this power. The tribe moved to the Queendom of Thanx to help protect its citizens and to release them from the submission virus.

Nickelpedes are considered one of the nastiest species of the Land of Xanth. They are five times as bad as centipedes; they gouge nickel-sized pieces of flesh from their victims. However, in “Six Crystal Princesses”, a tribe of nickelpedes came to defend Thanx against one of the attacking kingdoms, and there is a truce between them and the citizens of the queendom.

Thanx is a feminist queendom. Its name is Xanth spelt backwards, and it reverses the traditional patriarchal nature of other kingdoms.

The baton seems to react to what Apoca and Nimbus are saying, so maybe it understands them. Apoca asks it some questions and concludes that it is here for some important reason. They should get help from Vinia.

Vinia is a 13-year-old girl. She and her companions Prince Ion, Princess Hilda and Benny appeared previously in “Skeleton Key” and “Six Crystal Princesses”. In the latter book they played an important role in establishing the queendom of Thanx.

Vinia was the protagonist of that story. In the later part of the story (after the part I describe in my review), she discovered she had the talent of seeing coloured paths to the future, giving her guidance of what she should do. Sometimes these are physical paths she should take, and sometimes these indicate the course of action she should take. The path which indicates the best choice is coloured green.

And Vinia is coming towards Apoca and Nimbus at this moment. She tells them her paths had led her to them.

Apoca tells Vinia about the baton, and when Vinia takes Apoca’s hand, she can see it. She doesn’t know what it is, but she knows it is important because of the intensity of green at that spot. And now she sees a new path.

She leads them into the heart of Thanx, to the door of Queen Demesne Demoness, ruler of the queendom.

But it is the queen’s husband, Demon Grossclout who answers the door. He tells them that the queen is busy today, but maybe he can help. Grossclout is very knowledgeable about magic; he had been the professor at the Demon University of Magic for years.  He also has some magical means of accessing information.

He tells Apoca that she is the protagonist, and he can see the baton, which he knows is the Baton of Protagonism. But there is a qualification: Apoca is a temporary protagonist; the baton is on loan to her from the real protagonist.

He tells her that the real protagonist is Prince Nolan Naga. Nolan has the talent of seeing imaginary things, which enabled him to send the baton to Apoca, to give her the temporary protection of protagonism. And he did this because he is coming to court her. Nolan had been to the Good Magician to ask about his ideal woman. His Service is to ameliorate the Curse of Talents (whatever that is). If Apoca associates with him, that may become her mission too.

Vinia announces that she has a new path.

Review to be continued.

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