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Andrea K Höst

Australian writer of science fiction and fantasy.

A Confusion of Princes

A Confusion of Princes - Garth Nix Khemri is one of ten million princes. Taken from his parents in infancy, he's been bioengineered and indoctrinated to form part of the Empire's ruling class. His plan for his future once he is permitted, at sixteen, to leave his training 'temple' is basically = "Requisition Snazzy Ship + Roar About the Universe Having Fun + Be Hero + ?? = Become Emperor".Naturally it does not work out like this.The Empire is a horrible, horrible place, with a rigid class system which includes "mind-programmed" people used as various types of slaves. It has some non-human enemies, and there are a few minor human systems about the edges, but basically Imperials are put in whatever pigeon hole birth or the psychically linked "Imperial Mind" has designated for them, and that's their lot in life. Princes (who can be male or female - evidentally the human race hasn't managed to come up with a gender-neutral 'heir' rank) don't have a great deal more choice than anyone else.The story is told memoir-fashion by a Khemri ten or so years down the track, looking back at his emergence from his training temple, early years finding out the job description of a Prince isn't necessarily "have fun, order people about". Princes are raised to be massively entitled, so the Khemri we first meet is a selfish piece of work, and we get to see how he grows and changes.Despite a somewhat draggy start (there's not much _conversation_ in this book), the story takes on a compulsive "what-happens-next", "why is that so" aspect which makes it a quick, enjoyable read, although only Khemri himself is a _person_ in this story. We never really get to know anyone (even Raine) particularly well - but that's okay - the story is primarily about Khemri becoming a person. The Empire itself is completely over-the-top as only a truly enormous bureaucracy could succeed in being. (Ten thousand mind-programmed people used for a training simulation! For a handful of people!) A large portion of the princes are killed within an hour of leaving their training temples - a wasteful piece of idiocy which seemed nonsensical to me, until I realised this might be in itself a kind of 'winnowing' of unsuitable potential commanders, facilitated by the quality of assassin assigned to protect them.I never quite fully warmed to Khemri. He starts out as the arrogant, unquestioning ass he's designed to be, matures out of that, but is never quite a real person until the "usual cure" (the old Love of a Good Woman fixes _everything_!) Since Raine is pretty much a Nice Girl cipher, it was hard to feel much about their romance, other than to hope that Raine wasn't hurt too badly by it.The conclusion is on many levels a triumph of selfishness. Khemri has learned to despise the Empire, and yet finds himself in the position to rule it. The Empire is a massive and apparently stable monument to injustice (mind-programmed sex slaves!). Khemri thinks it would be a horrible fate to be in charge of the Empire, so he arranges for his rival Prince/sister – who has shown no particular sign of being any kind of moral person – to be Emperor instead, and gets himself sent back to his Nice Girl. The End. It's, uh, a happy ending, but it just didn't feel like a 'right' one, and left me feeling a bit let down.So, overall, interesting read, kept me entertained, probably wouldn't re-read.