It’s common in reviews to praise a sequel by saying that it stands on its own; that a reader needn’t have read, say, “Tarzan of the Apes” to enjoy any of Edgar Rice Burroughs’s many other Tarzan novels. “The Lost Prince,” however, is that most impudent of literary specimens: a sequel that makes no sense unless you’ve read its predecessor. Indeed, after thrashing my way through the first 10 chapters of “The Lost Prince,” I went back and reread “The Little Book,” which I’d enthusiasticallyreviewed in 2008 and remembered in the general way that one remembers an entertaining but not life-changing book. Be forewarned: General recollection is not enough. Unless you can recall the complex plot of “The Little Book” with the acuity of a PhD candidate bracing for her oral exams, “The Lost Prince” will be as intelligible as Cheetah reciting Shakespeare.
Here, for fans and novices alike, is the essential back story: In 2008, a retired English teacher and headmaster named Selden Edwards brought out a charming first novel called “The Little Book.” Edwards had been working on his ornate opus for more than 30years, and — in the best ways possible — it showed. The story was as jam-packed as a sacher torte with the art, music, science and politics of fin-de-siecle Vienna, where it was (mostly) set. The novel chronicled the adventures of Wheeler Burden, a late-20th-century rock musician turned accidental time traveler, who finds himself in analysis with Freud, discovers Mahler, hunts down a pre-pubescent Adolf Hitler, and falls in love with a sexually magnetic young woman who turns out to be (spoiler alert!) his own grandmother.