Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Review: A Confusion of Princes - Garth Nix


I read Garth Nix's A Confusion of Princes as an e-book through Overdrive. I'm loving reading books this way. My library's selection isn't huge - nor is my phone's screen. But it is very convenient. I used to carry books everywhere but a lot of the time I find my bag is already too heavy. Few things can be worse than finding the time and inclination to read without a book in range... I finished reading this book some time ago but it was too good to leave without a review.

A Confusion of Princes is a fantastic sci-fi adventure. Prince Khemri has been raised in a sheltered environment with the belief that he is the best thing to happen to the Empire. In his imagination his future is filled with grand adventure exploring the galaxy making conquests and great discoveries. When he comes of age he rapidly discovers that as one of millions of princes (who all want to kill him) it will be a struggle to survive his first hour and that he will have to abandon his dreams to fight for survival. His journey will challenge everything he believed.

***

I've been waiting for a long time to find another Garth Nix book I really love. I discovered Sabriel when I was about fourteen and read it over and over - and when the sequels came out it just got better. Unfortunately those of Garth Nix's books I've tried to read since, most particularly the Keys to the Kingdom series, disappointed. I wouldn't go so far as to say they were bad, but they were not for me. I generally strongly encourage adults to ignore the age classifications on books but they just felt very...kiddy.

Then along comes A Confusion of Princes and my faith is restored.

Prince Khemri is likeable protagonist who is remarkably relatable - which is a substantial achievement considering Khemri is a complete asshole. When the book begins he is the product of a highly planned high-tech upbringing that has shaped his body, mind and abilities. He has been the centre of everything thus far - most of the people he has known have been mentally programmed to reinforce his superiority. This has made him self-centred and self-important. From his point of view people and the world exist for his amusement. Unsurprisingly, the story is about to arrange him a series of wake-up calls.

The opening intrigued me and grabbed me, then threw me head first into a foreign universe where several chapters dumped an awfully large amount of information to set the scene. This created a fantastic universe for the story to take place in and was enjoyable, but one colleague has told me they found the info-dumping so off-putting they did not continue.

The narrative voice is the book's strongest point. Khemri's first-person viewpoint is funny and engaging and kept me turning pages over, or at least flicking to the next screen, far later than was sensible. I could feel the shock of successive reality checks passing through his mind and his discovery of emotions that were completely foreign to him.

There is one major plot point that felt particularly contrived - concerning one of Khemri's rivals but... spoilers. If you read the book it probably won't take too long to work out. Many aspects of the book are highly original but the foundation of tropes and clich├ęs is noticeable. These common elements and themes are handled well with fresh twists but are hard not to notice.

Please don't take my criticisms as reasons not to read this book. Although it's not flawless (what book is?) it's a seriously fun read in a fantastic world designed with great depth. A Confusion of Princes comes highly recommended to anyone who enjoys science fiction, fantasy or adventure.

***

 Garth Nix also has a new Old Kingdom book, Clariel, due out at an unspecified time this year. I have very high expectations and hope that I will be able to tell you how wonderful it is before the end of the year.

It's not the only series I love that is getting a new installment this year either. A new Sergei Lukyanenko Night Watch book is to be translated and released in May. I can't wait! I have slight reservations with this one - the first three books in the series built on each other and got better and better but I felt quite let down by book four. Hopefully book five will bring a new restoration of faith.

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