A Confusion of Princes: A Review

“I have died three times, and three times been reborn, though I am not yet twenty in the old Earth years by which it is still the fashion to measure time.

“This is the story of my three deaths, and my life between.”

A Confusion of Princes by Garth NixChosen as a baby to be molded into a Prince of the Empire, Khemri has always had a wealth of luxuries at his fingertips. Raised in his own temple with an assortment of priests, servants, and even mind-programmed companions, Khemri’s early life as a initiate Prince is everything he would expect or want.

Unfortunately on the day Khemri becomes a proper Prince he also realizes everything he previously knew about Princes and the Empire is completely wrong.

As a Prince, Khemri is smarter, faster and stronger than regular humans.  Truly he is superior in every way. The only problem? So are the thousands of other Princes scattered throughout the Empire. Worse: All of those Princes are competing for a chance to become the next Emperor and most of them have no qualms about killing the competition during duels or through assassinations.

The more time Khemri spends as a Prince of the Empire the more he understands that the Empire can be a cruel, unsatisfying place. Being a Prince is all Khemri knows and all he has ever wanted. Until he dares to imagine having something more, even if Khemri isn’t sure he will ever have the chance to choose a different life in A Confusion of Princes (2012) by Garth Nix.

Find it on Bookshop.

A Confusion of Princes is a standalone Space Opera. It is also Nix’s first book for older readers since his widely acclaimed Abhorsen trilogy.

Part of what marks Nix as an incredibly talented author is his richly detailed settings and well-realized characters. A Confusion of Princes is no exception with Khemri’s story playing out not just on an entirely new world but in an entirely new galaxy. The worlds Nix created here are so compelling that A Confusion of Princes even inspired its own online game: Imperial Galaxy.

The downside to creating such a rich setting is that it often makes for very dense writing. This book starts off with full throttled action and very little time for background. With so many facets to being a Prince, readers have almost as much to absorb as Khemri himself throughout the novel.*

Filled with minute details about the galaxy and Khemri’s life as a Prince, A Confusion of Princes sometimes skips over opportunities to develop the plot in favor of developing the world as Khemri alternates between running around and standing still with very little introspection or enlightenment until the last third of the novel.

Though Nix has undoubtedly created a fine addition to the science fiction genre, A Confusion of Princes does not stand up well compared to Nix’s other fantasy novels which combined expert world building with a depth that is lacking in the characters here.

*Other aspects of life in the Empire are painfully unexplained. A keystone of the Empire seems to be the use of mind-programmed servants and slaves but Nix never delves into the mechanics of this or the ethical implications. Though much of the story focuses on Khemri’s shift in thinking more as a human and less as a Prince, this plot thread remains unexplored or explained.

Possible Pairings: The Queen of Blood by Sarah Beth Durst, Rule by Ellen Goodlett, Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers, The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson, These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner, The Diabolic by S. J. Kincaid, Legend by Marie Lu, Cinder by Marissa Meyer, Across the Universe by Beth Revis, The Ghosts of Heaven by Marcus Sedgwick, Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor, A Conspiracy of Kings by Megan Whalen Turner, Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld, Farscape (television series), Highlander (television series)

Lady Friday: A review

Lady Friday by Garth Nix

Lady Friday (2008) by Garth Nix Find it on Bookshop.

Garth Nix is one of my favorite fantasy writers. I first discovered him through his Abhorsen trilogy–a richly written set of fantasy books for a young adult audience. Those books are on the long side and are what I would consider YA if not adult literature. Nix’s more recent writing endeavor, a series of seven books entitled The Keys to the Kingdom, began in 2003 with the publication Mister Monday. As you might have guessed, each book is titled for a different day of the week.

Lady Friday is the fifth book in the series (first published in 2007) with the next installment due out in August 2008. Before saying anything else, I have to say that this is not a stand alone book. If anything is going to make sense, you have to read the series starting at the beginning. If you can also read them close together, even better. For my part, I had to wait over a year before I procured a copy of this book. As a result, some of the details were a bit fuzzy until I remembered what was happening in the story.

This series takes place in the course of one week (one day for each title). And, for Arthur Penhaligon our twelve-year-old hero, it has been a very long week. Arthur is the Rightful Heir of the Architect (the creator of Earth and everything else). Over the course of the first four books, Arthur has worked to free parts of the will of the Architect in order to gain help while battling the treacherous Trustees who decided to imprison the Will and steal the Architect’s power for themselves. Four trustees have been defeated, their keys taken, but that doesn’t mean Arthur has time to rest on his laurels.

Arthur’s friends, Suzy and Fred, are still imprisoned by the Piper whose New Nithling army has taken over the Great Maze in the House. Superior Saturday, in an attempt to cripple Arthur’s efforts to consolidate power, is cutting off phone and elevator service to and from the House. To make matters worse, Arthur still isn’t sure when he’ll be able to go home or if he will be able to at all. Meanwhile, Lady Friday sends Arthur an offer that he might not be able to refuse. Even if it might also be a trap.

This novel moves the action from the Lower House to the new territory of the Middle House. The descriptions here are really fun. Lady Friday is in charge of all the House’s record keeping and book making, so there are a lot of book references in terms of places and characters. Nix also incorporates a lot of information about Arthur’s military training during Sir Thursday to good effect.

As Arthur races to find the Will and Lady Friday’s key, the story also follows Leaf’s own difficulties with Lady Friday. This part of the story is interesting and does eventually tie in with Arthur’s story, but at the same time it made for a slow start. (The books prologue begins with Leaf.) In the early chapters, Nix alternates between Leaf and Arthur which I guess integrates the stories but it also made for some really frustrating cliffhangers at chapter ends.

Lady Friday had a bit of a slow start compared to earlier novels in the series, but the dramatic ending makes up for it. A fine addition to a fine series.