Review: _The Princes of the Golden Cage:_ In a not too distant world than our own, a variation on fable and history
April 3, 2017 10:07am CST
A couple of weeks ago, I really needed some escapist reading. A recent purchase of Natalie Mallet's novel, The Princes of the Golden Cage looked to be a good choice, harkening back to the heady days of the 1970's, and the rise of a new genre in fiction -- that of the sword-and-sorcery epic, where all the heroes were flashy swordsmen, the settings exotic, and magic being of the dire and deadly kind. In the kingdom of Telfar, the sultan's many sons are kept in opulent imprisonment in a very gilded cage. They are allowed anything, from military training, books, even women, everything that is, but freedom. Even leaving the Cage, as it is called, can bring death. So the princes form plots, and alliances among themselves, wondering who will be the next Sultan and who will be dead. The story is told from the point of view of Amir, a young princeling who has turned his hours to studying. Along with learning swordplay, Amir keeps a very healthy sense of paranoia about him, knowing that it's not unheard of for a prince to have an unfortunate accident or two. And Amir knows that he's a prime target. His rooms are located between two of his brothers, one who is mad and screams, and another who is mad and mumbles a lot. While Amir does his best to care for them both, he's not completely altrustic -- they make good watchdogs, creating quite a ruckus when someone unknown comes into their section of the Cage. Lately, there's been quite a few new people showing up at Amir's door. Despite all of his care to stay unknown and safe, he is approached by the Grand Vizier to do some investigating. Seems that every time there's a full moon, a prince has turned up dead, killed by some unknown assailant. Whispers of magic are starting, and Amir thinks that it's all bosh -- there's no such thing as magic, at least according to his self-taught, scientific mind. But he can't exactly say no to the Vizier either, and so we follow Amir as he starts to explore the Cage a bit more, and discover his many, many brothers as well... Especially Erik, a blond, blue-eyed brother in this desert kingdom, who not is only skilled and ambitious, but also downright friendly. Maybe just a bit too friendly, actually... To be honest, I was prepared to see something rather trite and dull, another tired retread of a fantasy theme. But I was surprised at just how complex and funny this novel was. While I could recognize quite a few of the elements that were taken from the history of our own world -- the Cage system was used in the Ottoman Empire to keep fratricadal wars from breaking out, or forcing a new Sultan to have all of his brothers strangled -- there were enough twists and turns and plot to keep my interest engaged. While there's not a lot of character development here beyond Amir and Erik, there is a lot of action. Plenty of slipping about in hidden passages, dueling that usually results in a prince or two being dead, and very visual descriptions keep the story moving at a decent clip, and while the action does get a bit rushed in places, it's not bad either. What does make this interesting is that there are women involved as well. There's Livia, Erik's mother, who appears once a year to visit, and quite a plotter she is too, along with her servant Salima and the arrival of her niece, Eva, a princess who is destined to marry the next Sultan. As is usual with women in these sorts of books, all of them are clever and brave, with fast wits and plenty of sauciness to them. What works here is that the author is wise enough to let them have a bit of the action, and it does make the encounters that they have with the two princes both funny and a bit poignant. How the real murderer and the mysterious deaths are solved is a bit contrived towards the end, but in the end, it works out well. There are two sequels to this one, The King's Daughters, and Death in the Moving City.. All in all, a good read, a wee bit predictable, but enough surprises to keep it from being an average read. Fine for an evening's entertainment, coming in at three and a half stars, rounded up to four stars overall. Recommended.
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