A Confusion of Princes

Today I thought I’d write about a book outside of the circle simply because it is dedicated to Robert A Heinlein and Andre Norton.

Mind you Garth Nix is a favorite of mine, anyway. For the last dunameny years sf (outside of Baen) seem to have been slowly grovelling deeper into sort out-misanthrope, miserable-bastard pit. There seemed a perceived virtue yet another ‘you wouldn’t feed this ‘hero’, chopped into gobbets to your dog’ lead. Anything that really could class as ‘space opera’ seemed to have died, been buried with a stake nailed through its heart. Well. Baen did break those rules. I seriously think the main appeal of the re-release of James H. Schmitz’s books was that they were straight up old-fashioned space opera. The Karres books Eric and I did seemed to have been popular (despite the griping that we couldn’t possibly wear James H.’s mantle, and how dare we).

Sarah’s Darkship Thieves tapped into the same vein

All things considered – measuring sales per unit effort – old-fashioned space opera ate the lunch of all the other sub-genres.

But they came from Baen. And basically that means illogic rules with the rest of the industry, along with nice chorus ‘la la la’. It’s hilarious to hear TOR being hailed as ground-breaking leaders for giving up DRM for example!

Nix’s A Confusion of Princes is the first such thing I’ve really seen come out of any other publishing house. It’s a slightly different flavor to the Baen ones, but would pass as good ‘human-wave’ sf. It’s probably best defined as being older-YA. I know his fantasy well, and he always evolves complex and complete universes (and yes, you should read them). He tends to write MG and/or YA – but rather like Diana Wynne Jones – he writes better than most ‘adults only’ writers, BECAUSE younger audiences need more skill and if it is not fit to be read by adults, it’s not fit for children. This one has a very complex setting too. I got the feeling this was ‘set-up’ for a number of books – which I hope is true, and means reading this one is very important. This if anything is one of the downsides to the book if you simply want to plunge into adventure-to-adventure. There is a lot of universe building. And a lot of names. I’d love an appendix and a cast of characters. The other two bugbears – which I am going to get out of the way now, because they may bother you too, and I want you to persevere past them, is 1)It’s first person. I know, this is quite common in YA, but in vast plot like this it does mean you’re in media res a lot of the time. It will be resolved. Have faith. But don’t do this unless you are writer of this sort of talent, and people trust you. (I avoid it, but that’s because I’m a lazy and fairly useless oik) 2)Khemri – the POV character starts off the book as basically unlikable. This, given the background the character has, is understandable. It still makes it a bugger to care about him. I must admit I read the first part because it was a fascinating setup and well, I trust the author. As the book evolves so does the character — but be prepared to give it time.

I’m not going to include too many spoilers but it is essentially a young man in an empire which has intrinsically lost humanity in its rulership. It’s a vast complex empire, and the princes are selected from the hundreds of billions of people in it… and effectively de-humanised and uplifted and set in a nasty power-struggle to become Emperor (and to retain power and incidentally almost to rule the çommons. The Prince must rediscover his humanity in the midst of very devious plotting and of course, suitable mayhem. There are lots of fascinating alien relics and bits of odd cultures.

If anyone can convince the rest of the publishing world to follow this ‘new’ trend, it will be this book (Which would be good for readers). If it succeeds.

Help to make it so.


  1. Interestingly enough the ONLY non-baen space opera I have seen in the last, oh, I don’t know how many years, has been written by authors that are also published by baen. Usually ones who became successful at Baen and started another series that they sold to a different house (generally while still publishing books through baen at the same time). Which tends to imply that somewhere in the hierarchy of these other publishing houses, there is somebody who has two (not many more mind you) brain cells to rub together, and however much they may plug their ears and sing la-las about space opera or baen, if an author has proven they can sell enough books through baen they MIGHT be willing to publish that author. But ONLY if the author has proven successful already, AND their books are not too politically incorrect. I have a hard time seeing any of the big six giving Tom Kratman the time of day no matter how successfully his books sell, for example. On the other hand David Weber and Elizabeth Moon have much more politically acceptable books, and have space opera published by other houses. Weber, and I believe Moon, however had to prove themselves bestsellers through Baen, BEFORE any other house would look at them.

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