Tatiana's Reviews > A Confusion of Princes

A Confusion of Princes by Garth Nix
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's review
Feb 23, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: sci-fi, aus-nz, 2012, ya
Recommended to Tatiana by: Kirkus
Read from May 10 to 13, 2012

As seen on The Readventurer

A Confusion of Princes me of a variety of "guy" space SF, both in book and movie form - Dune, Starship Troopers, Star Wars, Ender's Game, Star Trek. Let me clarify this statement a little further. Garth Nix's newest novel brought back the memories of the best parts of these books and movies, because I am certainly a fan of neither Orson Scott Card nor Robert A. Heinlein (or campiness, bigotry and misogyny).

What attracted me to all these stories and why reading A Confusion of Princes was such a positive experience for me, was, first and foremost, space travel and space military schools (these settings just never get old for some reason), then (mild) interplanetary politics and intrigue, and, finally, rich world-building (you know, the type where everything is described in long words and titles and you feel smarter just by learning what Mektek is or what the Aspect of the Emperor's Discerning Hand does).

A lot of male-written fantasy and SF is preoccupied with this idea of "the chosen one" and his journey to acquire power and his subsequent choice of how to use this power. A Confusion of Princes roughly follows the same plot trajectory, so in terms of plot I can't say Nix invents anything mind-blowing or original here. But like with Dune, for example, I found myself utterly fascinated by the world in which Nix set his novel. I just love the idea of the universe run by a mysterious and almost omnipresent Emperor who picks, chooses and grooms millions of Princes so that they are prepared to governs His Empire. Khemri is one of the Princes. He is removed from the lowly regular population, he is an enhanced being in possession of psychic powers, vast knowledge, physical prowess and an opportunity to be reincarnated over and over again. His primary occupation is to lead and to fight for power. Khemri's view on his destiny changes, however, when he is forced to get a taste of regular, unprivileged life...

Even though I found this story very readable and interesting, I'd say that, structurally, I am not sure it is as good as it could have been. I don't know if Nix struggled with finishing this story, my guess is he did and he probably got stuck somewhere in the middle of the book, because that's where A Confusion of Princes sort of shifts gears, and the transition from Khemri-the Prince to Khem-gets-a-taste-of-normal-life is not very smooth or fully believable (while reading this novel I momentarily experienced a Blood Red Road deja vu, that book also changed course half-way). The second part is not developed enough, IMO, which includes not only Khem's too quick ideological transformation, but also the romance which has a very distinct whiff of insta... If anyone had asked me how to improve this novel, I'd have said - cut the princely experiences shorter and make ordinary experiences longer and more meaningful.

Still, like with Blood Red Road, I mostly was able to overlook this weakness and fully immerse myself in the book.

Now, to the most unpleasant part of my review.

Here is a series of A Confusion of Princes covers that I really, really like. Notice the progression, from UK to US, with the face of the hero becoming smaller and smaller, and even when it is large enough to see the features, it is still partially obscured?




May I present to you my freshly formed conspiracy theory?

Here it goes:

This is how Khemri speaks of his own appearance: There were five female and three male Princes, and we all looked quite different. There was a lot of variation in skin, hair, and eye color, ranging from the darkest black, dark-haired, ebony eyes of Prince Aliadh to the orange-tinted skin and yellow eyes of Prince Fyrmis, who as was not unusual for some planets, had no hair at all. My own brown skin and black eyes were pretty much in the middle of the pack. My hair at that time was long and tied back in a queue, though later when I became more aware of Imperial fashions, which primarily consisted of the aping of old Earth customs, I had it shaved save for a strip in the middle, a hairstyle called a mohuck for reason that had not survived the march of history" (p. 65-66, ARC).

Maybe I am being a tad paranoid, but I am quite convinced that the face of the hero received this treatment (from bluish tint of the UK cover to virtually impossible to see on US cover) because of Khemri's natural coloring. I even think that tinting of faces to conceal their actual (non-white) color is the "in" way to go about whitewashing covers. Certainly, it won't be the first time when it happened. Native American Maya in Kelley Armstrong's YA novels has been sporting this disguise for a couple of years now.


What I want to say, though, is that, it appears, YA authors are willing to make their characters diverse. It's the publishers who go above and beyond to hide this diversity.

What do you think, dear readers, am I being paranoid? Or am I onto something?
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Reading Progress

05/10/2012 page 64
06/26/2016 marked as: read
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Comments (showing 1-34 of 34) (34 new)

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message 1: by Kat Kennedy (new) - added it

Kat Kennedy I want this book so bad...

Tatiana You are in Australia, you can probably get an ARC there easily. And it is released there earlier too.

message 3: by Kat Kennedy (new) - added it

Kat Kennedy Garth Nix is one of the few Aussie authors everyone respects here. I don't think it will be easy to get an ARC.

Tatiana Maybe it will show up on NG? One can hope...

message 5: by Kat Kennedy (new) - added it

Kat Kennedy If it gets released here early, do you want me to send you a copy?

Tatiana Oh, no, but thank you for offering. After seeing how much it costs to ship books overseas, I wouldn't burden my friends with this sort of expense. I can wait an extra month.

message 7: by Kat Kennedy (new) - added it

Kat Kennedy I asked mr Nix if it would be on NG - no reply!

Tatiana Plus, it's a standalone!

Emily May Great review, I'm glad I orderd this. As for your theory, it seems plausible to me - even more so on the Kelley Armstrong books were it's more than just a glowy look, her face is actually coloured blue. I tried to see if other YA novels had this but, guess what, I couldn't find any who weren't white, apart from the UK cover of The Girl of Fire and Thorns and sure enough, you can only see a small portion of her face:

Tatiana The original US cover of this book had white, skinny girl on it:

They solved the problem by doing this:

message 11: by Giselle (new)

Giselle Hmmm you may just be on to something. It's not something I had noticed/realized before but you're right (about the white washing).

message 12: by Emily May (last edited May 16, 2012 02:23PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Emily May Is the idea supposed to be that white girls only want to read books with white people on them? o_O
Another example I thought of is both books in the Across the Universe series - the guy is described as having brown skin and dark hair/eyes, which you conveniently cannot see on either book. And on the UK paperback of Million Suns he looks pretty white to me.

message 13: by Giselle (new)

Giselle Just check the outrage on Rue being black. It was clear that she had dark skin in the book, but people either didn't catch onto that, or made her white in their minds regardless.

message 14: by Lucy (new)

Lucy I had a similar thought about the Partials (Dan Wells) cover, with the character on the cover facing away from 'camera'. If memory serves, she is of Indian ancestry. Thought perhaps I was over thinking it, but perhaps not...

Tatiana Emily wrote: "Is the idea supposed to be that white girls only want to read books with white people on them? o_O
Another example I thought of is both books in the Across the Universe series - the guy is describe..."

So, he is supposed to be brown-skinned? Or their creative usage of bright back-light should justify his lighter appearance?

Emily May I know. Did they honestly think we wouldn't notice?

Crowinator I think the progression of the covers is hilarious -- it's like he's flying backward through a glowing wormhole or something. At least this one gets it right: The Chaos by Nalo Hopkinson

I can't wait to read A Confusion of Princes -- I've had it on hold forever.

Amy (Turn the Page) I saw this today and almost bought it but decided to read some reviews first. And you're spot on about the whitewashing and trying to disguise it. I loath this sort of thing. Shame on you, publishers.

message 19: by Becca (new) - added it

Becca For some reason the images of the various Confusion of Princes covers aren't showing up in your post. But yes, I noticed the same thing about Khemri's description of his appearance in the book and his (albeit hard to see) appearance on the cover :/

Tatiana Becca wrote: "For some reason the images of the various Confusion of Princes covers aren't showing up in your post. But yes, I noticed the same thing about Khemri's description of his appearance in the book and..."

They show up ok when I look at the review.

message 21: by Kat Kennedy (new) - added it

Kat Kennedy They show up for me.

message 22: by Reynje (new)

Reynje Tatiana wrote: "Emily wrote: "Is the idea supposed to be that white girls only want to read books with white people on them? o_O
Another example I thought of is both books in the Across the Universe series - the g..."

Also, why does it appear in that A Million Suns cover that Amy has had a spray-tan? I wasn't aware they were available on board the Godspeed.

Your theory is really interesting.. as is the rest of your review :) Have you seen this post? It goes into minority representation on YA book covers over the past year.

Tatiana That's a very comprehensive article, Reynje. And I think the results of it support my theory. If there are POCs on the cover, EVERYTHING is done to mask that fact if not via blatant whitewashing, then by using other camouflage techniques. Anything, but to show dark skin.

message 24: by Kate (last edited May 17, 2012 02:02PM) (new) - added it

Kate Copeseeley Reynje wrote...

That article is amazing! Thanks for linking it here!

message 25: by Megan (last edited May 19, 2012 07:21PM) (new)

Megan This isn't a YA book, but it is supposed to feature a biracial couple... which I never in a million years guessed from the cover :/ I think whitewashing exists in all forms of publishing, not just YA

Truly, Madly, Deeply, You by Cecilia Robert

Jenny Oh, I think you're onto something. Remember Magic Under Glass and that whole cover garbage? oh man. I also know an author who changed a character's skin color to the publisher's liking. Drives me nuts.
I do disagree with you on Orson Scott Card though. I haven't read much of his, but Ender's Game is classic.

message 27: by Mia (new)

Mia Haven't read the book in question (probably won't, doesn't seem like my thing), but your point about the use of non-human color tints to mask a POC as the main on a cover is spot on and disgusting. I hadn't noticed before, but that's almost as gross as having a whitewashed character on the cover.

Ravenous Biblioworm I always enjoy reading your reviews because you question the books you read... not in the sense that you question them as a book but question them in response to our world around us. I had to pause for a moment too when I read that description in the book and had to close the book to inspect the cover.

message 29: by Nicky (new) - added it

Nicky I don't think you are being paranoid at all! I get very discouraged when I walk through the YA section of B&N or wherever, and almost every single book has the same annoying close-up of a pretty female or a girl in an elaborate dress on the cover! Sure those images may sell, but shouldn't the covers reflect the diversity of the stories within the pages? I feel like the artwork on the cover is just as important as the story in some ways because it is the first visual representation of the story that you are introduced to. And they should not be so white-washed, like you say.

Phoebe I wouldn't say "conspiracy theory". :^) I'd say: truth. Thanks for pointing out that publishers continue to struggle with non-white people on covers. They probably tell themselves that brown won't sell, while at the same time young people crawl bookshops and libraries looking for representations of themselves. I wonder what Nix has to say on the subject.

message 31: by Aaron (new) - added it

Aaron Nagy I'm pretty sure it's more common for the cover to not make any sense wrong hair/skin/eye color(see probably 50% off all covers)
*Wearing/not wearing thing, hat in Dresden files, wrong rank emblem in military sci-fi/fantasy.
*Gotta have X...since lost fleet is about space that means you gotta have the main character in armor with a gun on an alien world right. *he never wears armor, lands on an alien world, or uses a gun, plus I'm pretty sure they got features like eye color wrong too.

message 32: by Shahir (new)

Shahir I couldn't take you seriously after you mentioned "misojiny" and his skin colour. I, and every other sane person, pictured him as someone who looks southern European.

message 33: by Hana (new) - rated it 5 stars

Hana Found this at a dollar store and the book cover looked interesting enough. It was undoubtedly a good read with mindblowing detail. I honestly anticipated a more morbid ending, it was sappy but still easy to settle with.
Khemri's logical nature was extremely satisfying.

message 34: by Hana (new) - rated it 5 stars

Hana "Brown skin" prefers to olive tones that are not "white". The man on the cover can easily pass for middle eastern, I live near many of them and the guys here resemble him a lot. Wasn't inaccurate in the least, you just haven't seen many people of different races.

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