A Confusion of Princes

by Garth Nix

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Last Updated on January 13, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1248

Author: Garth Nix (b. 1963)

First published: 2012

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Young adult literature, science fiction, bildungsroman

Time of plot: The distant future

Locale: An unnamed galaxy

Principal characters

Khemri a.k.a. Khem, a young man training to be a prince of the Intergalactic Empire

Raine, a young woman from Karalcha who becomes involved with him

Atalin, a high-ranking cadet in the Imperial Navy who is revealed to be his sister

Arch-Priest Morojal, a priestess who advises him

Haddad, a priest who trains him

Commandant Huzand, Commander of the Imperial Navy

The Story

Khemri is an entitled youth who has been groomed since birth to become a prince of the Intergalactic Empire. Readers quickly learn that Khemri was chosen by the Empire because of his natural genetic gifts; he has no memory of his actual parents. Khemri is not the only prince in the galaxy, and all the other princes are as well-trained as he is. All of them are vying to one day ascend to the position of emperor. Courtesy of HarperCollins Publishers

Shortly after being made a full prince, Khemri is nearly killed by a silver bomb known as a flower-trap. Haddad, a priest known as the Master of Assassins and who has been assigned to serve Khemri, tells him that, because Khemri's mind is not yet connected to the Imperial Mind, he is in danger of being permanently killed. Princes have the ability to come back to life in new bodies even after death, but without being connected to the Imperial Mind, Khemri cannot yet regenerate. As such, Haddad proposes that they travel to the closest planet that will allow them to connect to the Mind.

The nearest planet that allows a connection to the Imperial Mind is called Kwanantil Nine, and is home to the Imperial Naval Academy. To enter the temple and make the connection, Khemri is forced to join the Navy, something he does not want to do.

On Kwanantil Nine, Khemri meets a senior cadet officer named Atalin, who is rude and brusque. Khemri knows that Atalin hails from the House Jerrazis and is a winner of the Sword of Honor in her first year at the academy. Nevertheless, he is not impressed by her attitude.

After connecting to the Imperial Mind, Khemri is told by Arch-Priest Morojal to decline a pending offer from Vice Admiral Prince Jerrazis to join his House. When Khemri asks why, Morojal simply tells him that the emperor has other plans for him.

As Morojal predicted, Khemri is asked by Commandant Huzand, commander of the Imperial Navy, to join House Jerrazis. Khemri declines and is tormented by the other cadets and officers who are also members of the organization. As Khemri is about to graduate from the Academy, he is so tired of the abuse, that he considers joining House Jerrazis. At this point, the Empire is attacked by the Sad-Eyes, an alien race whose members are enemies of the Empire. Khemri joins the fight, but is killed and then reborn into a clone body.

After the battle, Khemri is approached by Huzand, who has become mentally unstable after the attack and attempts to kill him. During the attempt, Huzand rants about Khemri's resemblance to Atalin. Khemri kills Huzand and is transferred to a supply station to keep him safe from retribution. The station, it turns out, is a cover for a secret arm of the Empire, the Adjustment Service. Khemri encounters Morojal again, who tells him that Adjusters perform secret tasks for the Empire and to perform these tasks, are given greater powers than regular princes. Morojal offers Khemri the chance to become an Adjuster by performing a series of tests, a proposition to which he agrees.

Khemri, now renamed Khem, is sent into a body that does not have the augmentation that princes' bodies usually have; he undergoes four different tests in four different environments. After completing the tests, Khem is given one final assignment, to find a temple in a distant system and access the Imperial Mind. When he reaches his destination, Khem discovers a ship that has been attacked. There is only one survivor onboard, a woman named Raine. Raine is from a place called Kharalcha Four and explains that her ship was attacked by Imperials and one prince. Khem brings Raine back to Kharalcha Four and becomes romantically involved with her. When a band of pirates invade Raine's world, Khem joins the fight. He is killed in the battle and, just before dying, reconnects to the Imperial Mind and is brought back to life as a prince. He awakens in the Imperial Core and discovers that Atalin was the prince who attacked Raine's ship. Khem confronts Atalin with her lie and Atalin challenges him to a duel. Before the duel can begin, Khemri is revisited by Morojal, who reveals that Atalin is his sister and that they are two of a thousand princes who will be vying for the throne. Khemri returns to the duel and defeats Atalin, forcing her to concede.

The two then join the other princes in a challenge that employs their mental abilities to navigate boats through a treacherous waterfall and into a subterranean channel that leads to the final test. All the princes but five are killed. Khemri and Atalin are among the survivors and they successfully defeat the remaining three princes in combat. They duel and are injured—Atalin mortally. Khemri falls onto his own sword, however, to ensure that no emperor will be named.

Meeting with Atalin in the Imperial Mind, Khemri says that he does not want to be emperor and will allow her to take the throne, provided he is returned to his mortal body and sent to Kharalcha to live with Raine. Atalin agrees and Khemri is resurrected for the final time. He travels to Kharalcha, where Raine greets him. In an epilogue, readers discover that he lives a quiet, but content life as a trader on Kharalcha and does not regret leaving his life as a prince.

Critical Evaluation

A Confusion of Princes is a story about identity and finding oneself, but it is also a story about choice. Khemri has been raised from a young age to believe that he is special, one of the elite. He soon learns that his status as a prince does not protect him from harm or from those who would plot against him. He is forever in competition with Atalin and with the other cadets at the Academy, as well as with the enemies of the Empire. Continually, he makes decisions that not only impact his role as a prince but also show that he is an individual. His sacrifice at the end of the book shows that he has broken free of the expectations of the Empire and become his own person. As Raine tells him at the novel's end, "The Empire made you into a Prince, Khem. But you have made yourself into a human."

Further Reading

  • Nix, Garth. Interview by John Klima. Tor.com, 23 Nov. 2009, HYPERLINK "https://www.tor.com/2009/11/23/garth-nix-interview/" www.tor.com/2009/11/23/garth-nix-interview/. Accessed 13 Feb. 2018.
  • Nix, Garth. "PW Talks with Garth Nix." Interview by Michael Levy. Publishers Weekly, 10 May 2012, RLINK "https://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/authors/interviews/article/51893-q-a-with-garth-nix.html" www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/authors/interviews/article/51893-q-a-with-garth-nix.html. Accessed 13 Feb. 2018.
  • Nix, Garth. "Wouldn't You Like to Know . . . Garth Nix." Interview by Stacey Hayman. Voya, 23 Sept. 2013, om/2013/09/23/wouldnt-you-like-to-know-garth-nix/" voyamagazine.com/2013/09/23/wouldnt-you-like-to-know-garth-nix/. Accessed 13 Feb. 2018.

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