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A Chair, A Fireplace & a Tea Cozy
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Review: A Confusion of Princes

A Confusion of Princes by Garth Nix. Harper Collins. 2012. Reviewed from ARC from publisher.

The Plot: Prince Khemri is one of the ten million Princes who rule the Empire. To “ordinary folk,” these Princes seem immortal. And, it’s true, that they can be reborn in certain situations; and that they are augmented in what may appear to be super-human ways. Augmentation is around three types of technologies, or “teks”: Mektek (machinery); Bitek (biology); and Psitek (mental powers).

The sixteenth anniversary of his selection as a Prince-candidate is Khemri’s day of investiture as full Prince. He even gets assigned a Master of Assassins! Khemri has big plans, based on his grooming as a Prince and the things he’s been taught. He’s going to get a warship, go explore, make his mark, and become the next Emperor.

Turns out, his education wasn’t complete. Some details were left out. Like the competition between Princes can be deadly. Instead of sitting back and living out the adventures lived in his favorite Psitek experience, The Achievement of Prince Garikm, he finds himself being saved from assassinations attempts and enrolled as a Naval candidate because the Academy is one of the few safe places.

That’s all in the first thirty pages. That doesn’t even cover Khemri’s three deaths. Action, suspense, space pirates, and, yes, even a touch of romance in this intergalactic adventure.

The Good: Khemri is an idiot. No, really; he’s arrogant, because he’s a Prince; ignorant, because his education has been limited; and an idiot, because it takes him a while to realize his arrogance and ignorance are not positive qualities. Luckily, he has an experienced Master of Assassins, Haddad, and Khemri has enough self-preservation to know to listen to Haddad. It keeps him alive; and makes Khemri realize that he has things to learn. Fortunately for the reader, it takes Khemri a long time to stop being a total idiot. Part of why I loved this book is Khemri’s evolution from spoiled, privileged Prince to … well. I can’t tell everything.

The immersion into the Empire, via the experiences of this new Prince, is a second reason I enjoyed The Confusion of Princes. It’s clever, the way Nix shares knowledge of how it works with the reader. Instead of someone “new” entering this world, Khemri is someone who is privileged and of high rank. Someone who has had information downloaded to him, or tutors. He is supposed to know it all; and believes he does. The twist is Khemri keeps discovering what he doesn’t know. His frustration and rage are shown, and, I confess — at times made me laugh. Khemri may be an idiot but he’s my idiot. (Also? Khemri is telling this story after the fact; he knows what he was. He calls attention to the stupid things he does, and well, it’s funny.) Aside from that, the Empire is a complex, detailed place and I loved finding out more about it.

The action and adventure! Khemri is constantly on the go, either escaping assassins or alien attacks, or fighting duels, or accepting secret assignments. Sometimes it felt like Khemri was in the middle of some type of computer game; and it turns out there is an online game tie-in. Now, as that article explains, the game tie in didn’t work out quite like planned. But you know what? I love this type of stuff; thinking of new ideas, new ways to tell story, taking advantage of new technology, and, well, just playing with new ideas presented by today’s technology. Aside from that, I’m curious as to what gamers will think of the story, of the pacing.

Reviews: The Book Smugglers; Tor; io9.

About Elizabeth Burns

Looking for a place to talk about young adult books? Pull up a chair, have a cup of tea, and let's chat. I am a New Jersey librarian. My opinions do not reflect those of my employer, SLJ, YALSA, or anyone else. On Twitter I'm @LizB; my email is


  1. Loved it, and slightly disappointed that it’s a stand-alone. I’m looking forward to Nix’s other works.

  2. Liyana, I know what you mean — Nix created such a complex world, and there are questions remaining about how it all runs, how others are impacted. But I have to admit: it’s lovely having a story begin and end all in one volume, instead of several, and having to wait years to find out what happens.

  3. I listened to this one, and it was incredible. Not once but twice, I brought the next CD into the house to listen instead of just stopping when I shut off my car. They used a sound effect to indicate when someone was communicating telepathically that worked well.

  4. Sondy, now I want to also listen to this. I’ve sat in my car to get to the end of a chapter, but never brought it inside with me!