Though the title made me imagine a comic historical romance, this is actually an action-packed YA space opera with tons of sometimes wacky yet internally consistent worldbuilding. Yes! YA space opera, a genre which I had thought was extinct. I cheer its return and hope that there will be more.

Cover copy: You'd think being a Prince in a vast intergalactic empire would be about as good as it gets. Particularly when Princes are faster, smarter, and stronger than normal humans. Not to mention being mostly immortal.

But it isn't as great as it sounds. Princes need to be hard to kill—as Khemri learns the minute he becomes one—for they are always in danger. Their greatest threat? Other Princes. Every Prince wants to become Emperor, and the surest way to do so is to kill, dishonor, or sideline any potential competitor.

The surface story is pell-mell action, with Khemri madly dashing from one cool location to the next with help from his psychic ninja assassin servants, getting in lavishly imagined duels and space battles and narrow escapes. It's a bit reminiscent of a video game: lots of video games rely on cool worldbuilding and imaginative weapons and intriguing aliens as much as they do on things blowing up.

But what's most striking about the book is the sly undermining of the trope of the badass young hero with a destiny. Khemri is certainly badass. He's also a total jerk: smug, clueless, arrogant, and so detached from humanity as to border on sociopathic. Since the book is narrated in retrospect, after Khemri has (at least somewhat) learned better, he helpfully comments on what a jackass he used to be. This is mostly played for comedy, both light and dark, and I did find it pretty funny.

The narration, with its sparkling gloss over very dark undertones, matches the setting, which is one of the darkest, creepiest Evil Empires I've ever read, with virtually everything done by mind-controlled servants who are used for everything from courtesans to cannon fodder to living furniture, without anyone ever - including even the present, somewhat more humanized Khemri - thinking that might be wrong.

This is an odd duck of a book, slight in some ways but quite ambitious in others, made of pieces that don't all fit together. It overall reads like it's aimed at the young end of YA, but Khemri has casual sex with mind-controlled courtesans of both genders (this is mentioned, but not shown). When he later has a real relationship, it's assumed that when you're in a romantic relationship, it's automatic that you have sex. While this is often true in real life, I rarely see it presented that way in YA.

The chasm between tone and subject is signposted enough that it's clearly deliberate, but never quite resolved. Khemri learns better... but not that much better. Perhaps that's the point. I wonder if the younger readers will get that?

A Confusion of Princes

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