Book Review: A Confusion of Princes

A Confusion of Princes by Garth Nix is an interesting book. The setting is in the distant future (it is not explicitly stated). The majority of the galaxy (presumably, though not explicitly stated, the Milky Way) is under the control of the Empire; however, there are at least three other political entities stated; The Naknuk rebels, the Sad-Eyes, and the Deaders. Each of these, though, is reported to be inferior militarily to the Empire. There are three 'teks', or technologies types used by the Empire; Bitek, which deals with biological weaponry and technology; Psitek, which deals with the mental equivalent of the former; and Mektek, which deals with the Mechanical equivalent of the former two.

These are used as a 'Trinity' by the empire to defeat their enemies; the Sad-Eyes (which control beings mentally; they are called Sad- Eyes because the only part of the body they cannot control are the tear ducts), though stronger in Psi-tek, have limited Bitek and Mektek, and are defeated thus; the Naknuk rebels, former Imperial Princes (presumably of House Naknuk) focused entirely on Bitek, shunning the other two, as a result they are defeated; the Deaders, meanwhile, never allow themselves to be captured, if they are defeated, they self destruct- at the same time, they never take prisoners. The Empire is ruled by an Emperor who abdicates after twenty years. Until then, they rule over the Imperial Mind, which is actually the minds of the former Emperors, subsumed into the Mind till they are effectively one with it. The Emperor must be replaced every twenty years because after that, the Emperor is no longer able to keep from being subsumed. The Empire is partially commanded by some 10 million Princes. They are taken at a young age, before they remember anything about their parents, selected by the ability to go through the process of becoming a Prince. After this, they spend most of the next ten years having Bitek, Psitek, and Mektek additions (though there is always some innate Psitek), until they finally end up spending the time until age 18 learning of the duties of the Prince and the Empire. Every 20 years, 1000 of these are selected to become Imperial Candidates- one becomes Emperor, while the rest are killed. Houses are groups of Princes- ranging in size from a few dozen to tens of thousands- who function, effectively, as a support system for one another. The Naknuk Rebels were an Imperial House who split off to form their own Empire.

Prince Khemri is the main character who has spent his life training and being prepared for his role as Prince. The story begins as someone attempts to assassinate Prince Khemri. His Master of Assassins, the only priest assigned to him at that point, though one of the most legendary Masters, saves him and then advises him to go to the nearest conduit to the Imperial Mind, which governs the Princes. The nearest conduit is on Kwanantil 9, a planet in the Kwanantil system that is used by the Imperial Navy to train new cadets. In order to access the Conduit, though, he must first enlist in the Imperial Navy.

Upon arriving, Prince Khemri enlists in the Imperial Navy. He finds that the Priest receiving him is the Arch-Priest Morojal, of the Aspect of the Discerning Hand. She oversees his access to the Mind, then tells him that he has been chosen by the Imperial Mind for a special task. Meanwhile, he refuses an offer from the Commandant to join House Jerrazis, a middle tier House. As most of the cadets and officers at the academy are members, he becomes a target for pranks and demerits (though not actual violence; because he was given a large amount of priest, much larger than most, he is capable of constant 'witnessing', ensuring that no cadets can attack him), making his life there very miserable- just as he is about to break down and beg the Commandant for another chance to join the House, the academy are attacked by a small Sad-Eye raiding party.

Most of the academy are caught unawares, but Khemri, doing extras drills (due to his demerits) with the Mekbi troops which are the Principal ground forces of the Empire. Though he and all his Mekbi troops are killed, they successfully repel the Sad-Eye incursion, earning him several medals. The Commandant, however, who hated him, becomes mentally unstable after this, and attempts to kill Khemri for resembling on of the academy's best cadets, Atalin (she is later revealed to be the sister of Khemri). Khemri survives and manages to kill the Commandant; the Imperial Mind, meanwhile, hushes this up, and reports that the Commandant was killed in action against the Sad-Eyes; despite this, it becomes clear to Jerrazis that Khemri killed him; as a result, when his first year at the academy is over (and he is eligible for duels), the Imperial Mind immediately transfers him to a supply station far away from the Empire. Though initially dreading the job, Khemri then finds that the 'supply station' is in fact just a cover for the Adjustment service, the secret service of the Empire. He is then given a choice; either he can go through the test to become an Adjuster, or he can remain at the supply station, in which case he will be immediately assassinated by House Jerrazis. He chooses the test, and is given 4 months of training in 4 different artificial environments- but in a body that doesn't possess his augmented features.

Though initially his Princely arrogance causes him to be hunted down in several of the environments, he passes the training and moves on to the real test; he is sent out to a far away system, on Fringe space, with few weapons and no powers. If he can find a temple and access the Imperial mind, he will have passed the test. Upon arriving there, however, he finds a dead ship, destroyed by an Imperial 'Null Wave', that destroys all Bitek and life. The ship is a missile launcher, and the missile has not been damaged; however, only one crew member is left alive, a stowaway called Raine, from the system Kharalcha, who is a member of the Kharalcha Space Forces. she says that an Imperial ship, led by a Prince (later revealed to be Atalin, working for House Jerrazis) attacked the peaceful KSF, just as they had 9 years ago. The previous time, a group of Pirates followed soon after, nearly destroying Kharalcha; this time, they are sure to do so again. However, if the missile can be launched, it can close the wormhole, preventing the Pirates from coming, before help arrives. Raine and Khemri do so, escaping on his escape pod, though it is damaged, and they are forced to sedate themselves so that the oxygen they consume will be lowered. Khemri then awakes in Kharalcha, on an artificial space station.  Khemri spends time with Raine and her family, however, soon after, the pirates arrive, help having come too late. Khemri is then forced to pilot an obsolete imperial ship to fight off the navy. He succeeds, but then dies, just as the Imperial mind re-establishes contact with him.

Upon waking up, he finds he is in the Imperial Core, having received a medal for fighting off the Pirates; at the same time, Atalin gets a medal for destroying the KSF fleet (Kharalcha, meanwhile, has been placed under the protection of the Imperial Mind). After an argument, the two get into a duel, which Khemri wins, though he refrains from killing her because he is her sister, and they are both 2 of the 5 possible candidates for the Imperial throne; the other 995 are just selected out of tradition; each one of them dies. The 1000 Imperial candidates are then put through two tests; one of them tests their Psitek ability; all but the chosen 5 are killed here. Atalin and Khemri then kill the remainder of the chosen 5. Rather than become Emperor, though, Khemri fatally injures Atalin, them kills himself, ensuring that she will become Emperor, on the condition that he is allowed to return to Kharalcha to be back with Raine; Atalin accedes to this request. The book then ends with Khemri being picked up by Raine.

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