A review by Nalini Haynes
A Confusion of Princes is narrated by an older Prince Khemri retelling the story of his youth. Khemri regards all as his inferiors, certain that he is destined to become Emperor in spite of being one of 10 million princes. Hence the confusion of princes.
Prince Khemri’s life has been severely controlled and curtailed while he’s also been pampered beyond reason. He plans to have a ‘gap year’ of galactic proportions on passing his candidacy – until Haddas, his Master of Assassins, informs Khemri that he’ll be dead quite soon unless they take drastic steps. These steps include joining the Navy but to do that, they have to evade assassins, travelling through potentially hostile space to infiltrate the base to gain access to an Imperial temple to join the Imperial Mind (a bit like a hive mind but, as a prince, he has relative autonomy). That’s only the beginning.
Nix excels in his use of the ‘older self narrating’ technique to overcome dislike of the younger self, enabling readers to engage with a thoroughly unlikeable character whose sense of superior entitlement knows no bounds. Khemri’s sense of entitlement could be read as a spoof of male entitlement in current society but what made this delicious is that a significant number of princes are women. And they are princes not princesses.
Although Nix generally uses traditional designators for gender – him, her, etcetera – no societal differentiation of gender is observed. The emperor’s identity – and therefore the emperor’s gender – is unknown, so the emperor is referred to as ‘hier’ and ‘hierself’.
Khemri is assigned courtesans to meet his every sexual desire: he has three female and three male courtesans. Again, no comment is made about his sexual preferences; to the contrary, it’s implied he likes it both ways.
Garth Nix has a wry sense of humour that shines in A Confusion of Princes: everything from his oh-so-accurate commentary on manuals vs real-life training to this quote:
Each of the rings was named after some kind of old Earth animal, so there were Gryphon, Dragon, Basilisk, Sphinx, and one named after a mythical animal, Dolphin.
A Confusion of Princes is part Dune (although far more readable), part Lord Valentine’s Castle, part Assassin’s Apprentice and part Hunger Games. As such, Princes reminded me strongly of books I’ve loved; while original, it felt like coming home (to my genre – the SF with which I grew up). Although Allen & Unwin have marketed A Confusion of Princes as young adult, presumably because the protagonist is 19–21 during the story, the manner of storytelling makes it a delicious read for someone far older. I highly recommend A Confusion of Princes.
Format: paperback, 368 pages
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Rating: ★★★★★ 5/5