Science Fiction

A Confusion of Princes

by: Garth Nix

I was at my friend E’s house for the second time in two weeks and this was on her bookshelf, mocking me.  A Confusion of Princes was such a great name; I decided that I had to read it.  E graciously let me borrow it – and then I realized it was Garth Nix and I absolutely had to read it right then and there.  (Well, not literally. I went back to my place first.)

And then I read and read, and stayed up way too late, and read some more and finally finished it during my lunch break today.  It’s really absorbing!

The biggest downside is it’s a little pat – it could really have done with more pages or the promise of a sequel or something.  I feel like there was more to be explored within the realm of this story than there was.  Honestly, I at first thought it was going to be a trilogy, because so much was getting introduced without being completely and totally fleshed out and I wanted to know more.  But then there was a tidy epilogue and a very neat ending, so no. (Also, Wikipedia informs me it is a stand-alone space opera. Boo, Nix. I want more.)

Anyway, on to the story.  This is a science fiction set far in the future, when Earth is but a distant memory and 300 year old spacecraft are still considered fairly new. The society (galaxies? better part of the universe? Whatever, it’s all the same) is ruled by the Emperor and hier (20 points for the gender neutral pronoun, Nix) Imperial Mind.  The Emperor, an unknown being – hence the gender neutral pronoun – selects millions of Princes to be genetically and technically enhanced as children and raised into power.  They are the military forces, the political parties, and every twenty years one of them goes to the big throne in the sky and becomes the new Emperor.  (Yes, “hier” still make sense in this case.  Read the book; I’m not explaining.)

It’s told in first person, from Prince Khemri’s point of view.  Khemri isn’t here to save the universe or upset the status quo or enact revenge.  Khemri merely wants to be the most powerful person in the universe, the Emperor, and is an entitled, bratty asshole who will do anything to achieve his goals.  Despite all that, Khemri is likeable, if only because he is telling the story in past tense and writer Khemri knows what an ass young Khemri was.  Note, however, that Khemri isn’t ever evil; he’s just very sheltered, much in the way Marie Antoinette didn’t wish the peasants harm so much as have no clue that peasants really existed.

Khemri is the main character in the story and really the only one that’s given enough time to develop properly.   There are other characters, and they are believable, it’s just that they’re not given any time to be well-developed characters.  Now that I’m writing the review, I’m realizing how plot-driven the story is (there’s nothing I can say without giving something away! arg!).

I can say Khemri’s choices aren’t what one would expect from a science fiction novel and he isn’t really much of a hero, or even an anti-hero.  In fact, the more I think about the ending, the more I like it even though I don’t necessarily like Khemri himself. I’m conflicted, you could say. (Want to discuss? Comments are open for spoilers!)

All in all, this was a really good book.  I’m not usually big on plot-driven books but I liked this one, in part because of the quick, easy way the plot moved and partly because I did find the main character sympathetic and wanted to know what happened to him.  Nix really goes all out with the new, space-y world, so be prepared for new nouns from every corner and to have to spend a few seconds here and there putting technologies together.  He does a fantastic job of world building, however, and it wasn’t hard to keep up; I’m just not that fond of being bombarded with made-up words every five sentences.

If you like space odyssies and science fiction, I would definitely give this book a chance.  Especially if you’re looking for a different type of hero, one that chooses what could arguably be either the least or most heroic path to walk.  If you’re not a fan of Nix’s writing (do those people exist?!) or if you’re heavily into character interactions/not a huge fan of plot-driven works, then this, sadly, may not be the book for you.