May 31, 2012

Review: A Confusion of Princes

Book Cover By Garth Nix
Available now from HarperCollins
Review copy
Read my reviews of "Bad Luck, Trouble, Death, and Vampire Sex" and TROUBLETWISTERS

Standalone.  Science fiction.  Both things I've been craving lately.

Garth Nix's first novel for older teens since ABHORSEN.  Garth Nix's first standalone science fiction novel for older teens since the classic SHADE'S CHILDREN.  Not many new releases have those bona fides.

A CONFUSION OF PRINCES is narrated by Khemri, one of the Empire's millions of Princes.  He is making a recording of the story of his three deaths, to be accessed only by a non-Prince.  ("I am presuming you're not an Imperial Prince, which you'd better not be, or I'll have wasted all the careful preparations that are supposed to make this record detonate with a ridiculously large antimatter explosion if accessed by any kind of Princely sensory augmentation." p. 3, ARC)  It neatly sidesteps the "as you know" problem, since Khemri's intended audience doesn't know the secrets of the Empire he is imparting.

The novel begins with Khemri's coming of age.  He learns, for the first time, of the vast number of Princes - and that the Princes frequently assassinate each other in order to reduce competition for the position of Emperor.  He must give up his dreams of wandering about space in a ship under his command and learn to navigate a world of intrigue.  Khemri could be completely unlikeable at this point, but there's a naïveté that tempers his arrogance. 

And yet, some of Khemri's dreams come true.  When he first links to the Imperial Mind, Khemri learns that the Emperor has special plans for him.  Of course, he is still too young to realize those plans might not be to his liking.  But A CONFUSION OF PRINCES is not just about what it means to be a Prince.  It is also about what it means to be human.

A CONFUSION OF PRINCES is not perfect.  Some of the relationships happen too easily.  I wish it were longer.  A CONFUSION OF PRINCES is, at its core, a space opera.  It's a genre that lends itself to a  sprawling, epic scope.  But many of Khemri's adventures are summarized in less than a chapter.  In LIRAEL, Nix focused on Lirael becoming a librarian for at least a hundred pages and it was fascinating.  It didn't matter that the main plot took awhile to show up.  Nix has proven that he can write an interesting lengthy digression.  I felt like A CONFUSION OF PRINCES needed more of that.  (For those who have read it, just imagine more time spent on the space cowboy world.)

At the same time, I am looking at A CONFUSION OF PRINCES through the lens of Nix's past works.  He's written some of young adult speculative fiction's greatest classics.  But not all of an author's books can be a masterwork.  A CONFUSION OF PRINCES is quite good.  Khemri's journey is fascinating.  The world Nix has invented is imaginative and I loved figuring out how it worked.  It may not be another SHADE'S CHILDREN, but it is better than many other books I've read lately.

If you're tired of series and paranormals, give A CONFUSION OF PRINCES a chance.  If you like science fiction, give it a chance.

This didn't fit in my review, but some potential readers might find it useful.  All Princes are ethnically ambiguous since they don't know who their parents are and grow up far from where they were born.  (This is also because the book doesn't take place on Earth.)  Khemri is usually described as darker, but there are a wide range of skin tones on display.  While the book is all Khemri all the time, there are a number of terrific female secondary characters.


  1. A standalone that feels like a space opera? It sounds too good to miss. The only thing I've read by Garth Nix was a short story in a YA anthology (Zombie vs. Unicorn, I think?), but I've been meaning to get around to more of his work since forever. This might be the one!

    1. Garth Nix is terrific. You should definitely give his stuff a try.

  2. I have read all of his Keys to the Kingdom series but haven't read anything else by Nix. I have been meaning too, just haven't got there yet.


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