Sunday, December 15, 2013

Book Review: A Confusion of Princes

Like a lot of people I'm most familiar with Garth Nix's Abhorsen series than any of his other works (think necromancers fighting zombies with bells, which works a lot better than it sounds) even though he's actually written quite a few books. I don't keep up with what he does as much as I do for some other authors so I was pleasantly surprised to find a newer work by him in the local library and surprised that it seemed to also be a stand-alone story. The premise didn't quite make sense to me (and my history with choosing YA sci-fi has been, colorful at least) but I was willing to at least give it a shot and hope that it was only suffering from the "overly complicated back blurb" and that the actual story wasn't too clever for it's own good.

A Confusion of Princes by Garth Nix

Summary: Khemri is a prince of the Galactic Empire and has grown up dreaming of when he becomes an adult and will be able to go on swashbuckling adventures and win the fame and adoration of people worlds over. The actual truth is far from that, while he is technically immortal and gifted with powers that normal people don't have he's in constant danger of being assassinated by other princes and is quickly on the run for safety. But yet it seems to him that even among princes he is special, perhaps he will have a shot of becoming emperor one day and standing above them all after all.

The Good: Yup, while it's a lot of terminology and ideas to take in at first the story really does work. It's a bit of an odd story, it's hard to tell where it's going to go from the first few chapters, and certainly doesn't get there in the way I expected, but despite the oddness in style I thought it worked out well. In fact it might be for the best that it's hard to tell where the story is going since when it deviates a bit for character development doesn't feel like padding out the story or like the pacing is off, it just seems to fit in well. It's a bit hard to describe Khemri's character development, on the one hand a lot of the story is breaking him down so that he's not an asshat but on the other hand he's still not terribly mature when the story ends. I suppose I could sum it up by saying "he starts off as a bratty teen and is still a teen by the end but more like an 18 year old than a 14 year old" but that doesn't really sound like anything happened does it? 

The Bad: As I just discussed, Khemri is a bit of a brat which I'm sure is a turn-off for some but I think it actually works. Not because he was a prince raised in luxury but because his worldview makes him a potentially unreliable narrator so I was always questioning if he was truly special or just stuck up. Normally I don't like unreliable narrators but here I did like that unpredictability so I'll take a main character who in some ways doesn't actually grow up a lot by the end of the story. There were a few details that stretched my suspension of disbelief in the story (namely the sheer number of princes, given that they're not biologically related and who knows how large this empire is one could say that the story has explained that detail well enough but it still just felt weird to me, I just couldn't "turn off" the part of my mind that kept going "but wait, all the resources!"

I know this review isn't one of my best but hopefully I've been able to get across the point that yes I did like this book. In some ways it felt more like fantasy than science-fiction (not in terms of plot or setting but just the general term) and it's easily better than a lot of the YA science fiction I've read in the past few years (occasionally I get hits on those posts so they pop u on my dashboard and I can't help but wonder what poor sap is about to be disappointed) and I'm going to give it a 3.5 out of 5. It is a standalone novel so there aren't any sequels for me to keep an eye out for and I'm already a fan of Nix's work, just can't wait until that Abhorsen side story/prequel comes out!

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