What can one say about Garth Nix? Bestselling and award winning children’s and YA author who is highly prolific and amazingly inventive. Worse than that, he has the temerity to be younger that me! I ought to hate him, but as a matter of fact I’m a big fan.
He has stepped into SF once before with Shade’s Children, but for me, this is his first major foray into the world of SF and what an excellent one it is too. I have always found the difference between ‘older YA’ and ‘adult’ confusing and if this isn’t adult SF I don’t know what is, though its protagonist is young.
A Confusion of Princes takes us through the three deaths of Khemri, a prince just entering adulthood, where being a prince is nothing like you expect. Khemri has been born (and partially constructed) into an Empire spanning a big chunk of the galaxy. Though we meet some aliens, this Empire is about humans who originated on Earth and have spread. It is run by a mysterious overmind and an emperor who is never seen.
There are millions of princes and they control the Empire on the Emperor’s/Overmind’s behalf. Every twenty years a new emperor is chosen from a thousand princes.
Khemri is arrogant and has been fed a bunch of lies from birth. Now, as he reaches adulthood he discovers that the other princes will try to either kill him or make him their allies.
I was particularly impressed by the use of science. This is a well thought out universe where biological, electronic and psionic technologies are used to enhance and control humanity. In fact, unenhanced humans are cannon fodder to be used at will as concubines and other forms of mind controlled slaves.
To tell any more would be to deprive the reader of lots of fun, so I will leave the story there and let you find out for yourself.
This book is dedicated to two groups of people, the game design industry because the universe described is also a game, and the SF writers Robert Heinlein and Andre Norton. The fascinating thing for me is that this novel is a blend of those two writers. The struggle for survival and humanity is pure Heinlein and this book could have easily been another of his novels. The use of technology and the biotech is pure Norton, as is the subtlety. By accident or design this book takes the best of both writers, while remaining very much a Garth Nix novel.
The only negative I have is that the book is a little bit too much like a game in places. I salute Mr Nix for his attempt to reel in the gaming generation to books. I do hope they come because this is very much a book worth reading. I’m hoping for a sequel.