A Confusion of Princes by Garth Nix — A Review

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A Confusion of Princes tells the story of Khemri , a Prince of the Empire (actually, one of about ten million princes of the Empire).  Ostensibly princes live lives of absolute power and luxury.  With augmented bodies and minds, they are able to control the tiniest aspects of their physiology, making them nearly invincible.  When connected to the Imperial Mind, a psychic projection of the will of the Emperor, a prince can even have his/her consciousness saved and placed in a new body upon death.  Khemri has spent most of his childhood either undergoing the augmentations necessary to turn his standard human body into that of a prince, or mentally downloading the knowledge and training necessary to ensure his success in a world of duelling and daring feats.  But when his day of ascension arrives (the day he can officially start his career), he begins to question the way the Empire has carefully orchestrated the details of his life, his mind implanted with useful skills and truths, but also laced with unrealistic expectations and, as he continually discovers, strategic deceptions.  But why would the Imperial Mind lie, and what greater purpose is Khemri meant to serve?

The best thing about reading A Confusion of Princes is experiencing Khemri’s evolution from a naïve, somewhat obtuse narcissist to a feeling, thinking human.  Khemri’s childhood leads him to disregard most non-Princes as inferior creatures, more like furniture than people.  However, as his adult life begins, Khemri’s experiences create a cognitive dissonance that forces him to re-evaluate everything he has been programmed to take for granted.

Like other recent Young Adult novels (notably The Hunger Games), Khemri’s tale reflects upon the increasing class discrepancy in many of today’s societies.  However, A Confusion of Princes differs in its presentation of the wealthy and privileged of Khemri’s universe as, ultimately, no more than cogs in a greater machine; selfish products of their upbringing, unable to control their own destinies.  As a result, Khemri becomes a symbol for both our disgust at the injustices of the powerful, and also for the withering impotence many of us feel when trying to affect change.  Nix’s novel proclaims that as time and advancing technology alter the physical and mental limits of humankind and increase the gap between the haves and have-nots, our value as human beings will be defined by one predominant feature, our ability, often underdeveloped, to put others before ourselves.

A fantastic read (in some ways an Ender’s Game or Dune for younger readers), Princes covers several distinct and engrossing periods in Khemri’s life.  My only real criticism is that I would have loved to see more details; with its intriguing technology, transformative plot, and introspective, heroic main character, I would have happily read a trilogy-length version of Khemri’s tale.  I have high hopes that we will see more of this universe in Nix’s future work.

Liz Gillett

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