Saturday, 14 July 2012

A Confusion of Princes by Garth Nix

A Confusion of Princes is the first book by Garth Nix that I’ve read, despite his being an Australian author of some note. After reading it, his other books have moved up on my mental TBR list.

The story takes place in a space opera galactic empire, complete with fancy technology, body augmentations and psychic priests holding the empire together. The empire is run by the Emperor and the Imperial Mind, a sort of psychic presence that monitors almost everything and directs the actions of the empire’s priests, assassins and princes. Princes are chosen from a young age based mostly on genetic predisposition to the augmentations that make them super human. They’re taken away from their ordinary human families and raised in temples (which have very little to do with religion) and trained to be arrogant and self-centred pricks.

The thing that prevented the main character from being insufferable was that the story was told retrospectively by his grown-up self (mind you, he’s 18-19 for most of the story), who fully acknowledged what an idiot he was. I think if it was told in a more present manner, he would have been much more insufferable. There were many humorous moments where I laughed out loud at him as he learnt how the real world worked. I was also amused by some of the scenarios Nix set up which seemed to be poking fun at certain SF/space opera tropes.

A Confusion of Princes is also a very action-packed and fast paced novel. Although it covers about two years, it jumped from highlight to highlight quite quickly with several “and nothing exciting happened for a few months” moments. In a way this was good because it kept the plot moving, but I also couldn’t help but want to know more about the world Nix has built. Although this is a stand-alone novel, I wouldn’t mind reading more stories set in the same world. There was a short story appended in the edition I bought (which I think is the standard Aussie Allen & Unwin edition — can I just say how nice it is to see vapourise spelt with both a u and an s?), about the main character’s mysterious right hand man (aka Master of Assassins) but I didn’t feel it added much to the story. I mean, it wasn’t bad, I was just hoping a deeper look into the guy’s psyche.

What I found particularly interesting was the way all the imperial roles were gender neutral. Princes could be male or female, as could assassins and priests. There was a special gender-neutral pronoun for the Emperor heirself and while the main character was male and the world revolved around him, background characters were just as likely to be female as male (and Nix didn’t shy away from the whole fighting a girl thing that trips up some). The only thing that annoyed was the whitewashing/homogenising of the main character on the front cover. He’s meant to be black and spends most of the story with a mohawk.

Overall, a fun read. I would call it YA but more for its brevity than, even, the coming of age aspect of the plot. Oh, and none of the science made me angry, yay! I recommend it to anyone who enjoys YA science fiction or wants a light, non-strenuous, read.

4 / 5 stars

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