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Princess Alethea's Magical Elixir
  Book Reviews by Alethea Kontis
October 2012

Title: Darkbeast
Author: Morgan Keyes
EAN: 9781442442054

I had the pleasure of interviewing Morgan Keyes in July during my yearly Month of Author & Artists. In doing the requisite digging for her bio, picture, and most recent book, I stumbled across the cover for Darkbeast and knew I had to have it for review. Happily, Morgan and her publisher complied with my pleading request.

From the first chapter, Darkbeast reminded me of the high fantasy novels by Tamora Pierce and Mercedes Lackey. Duodecia is a rich world full of gods and tithemen and original magic. Keara's story is far simpler . . . though it seems to be less coming-of-age than it is the avoidance of growing up.

Keara is from a town called Silver Hollow, and the book opens on the eve of her twelfth nameday. On this day, young girls and boys are called upon to kill their darkbeasts, the foul beasts bound to accompany them through their childhood, taking from them the weaknesses (fear, lying, jealousy) that the children do not yet have the power to control themselves.

While other children have snakes and rats and toads as their darkbeasts, Keara's companion is a lovely and wise raven named Caw, who has ultimately become Keara's best friend. How is a girl supposed to kill her best friend just to prove her maturity to her community? Exactly. She doesn't. And so Keara and Caw run away and join a band of traveling players.

But the price is higher than Keara imagines. Like Harry Potter's Dementors, there are Inquisitors on Keara's tail. These agents of the Twelve Gods take their religious duties to the extreme, collecting the "Lost" and forcing them back on the path of righteousness with methods that seem tantamount to torture. All the while, Keara continues to hide amongst her new Traveler friends and help them develop a new play to win the cath: a competition of plays performed in honor of the Primate's nameday.

This was a gorgeous little story, melodic and well-told, but I found it unfortunate that such a huge and beautifully developed world was shoehorned into such a small novel. The conclusion to Keara's story was satisfying, though late in arriving, and there just seemed to be so much more of this story left to tell. I do, of course, hope that there will be sequels that deal with Keara's ultimate choice in light of the oppression of the religious state . . . but I do wish Morgan had been allowed to develop them more here in Book One.

I encourage you all to pick up Darkbeast, to share it with your middle grade children, and discuss the choices that Keara makes. A couple of times during the book, I found myself wishing Keara had taken a different path. Is that my age talking? Does not killing one's darkbeast really hamper proper maturity, or is it merely an antiquated Duodecian ritual?

And, ultimately, just how far would you go to avoid growing up?

Title: A Confusion of Princes
Author: Garth Nix
EAN: 9780060096946

I'm a fantasy girl. My father read to me at bedtime from infanthood, so the stories that molded me were born of Muppets and Goops and fairies. I love delving into science fiction, but it requires more of a commitment. In fantasy, magic works based on the price paid. In science fiction, there are entire worlds of economies and social structures the reader must understand while simultaneously enjoying the journey of the main character.

I adore Garth Nix, so I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt when I picked up A Confusion of Princes. Right off the bat, it's got "Confusion" in the title, and boy, does it deliver. I did not start at page one of this book and barrel all the way to the end -- I was forced to read much slower to understand this world, and I'm very glad I did.

Khemri is a Prince, but he was not born one. In this universe, Princes are often babies ripped from their parents shortly after birth to be raised by the intergalactic empire. Princes are smarter and stronger and faster than normal people. They are men and women. There are hundreds -- thousands -- of them, and each one's goal is to become Emperor. In doing this, many Princes seek to thin the herd by killing the other Princes.

But death is not death once one has connected to the Imperial Mind. Like Cylons, dead Princes are given life again. Thus Khemri's declaration on the back of the book: "I have died three times, and three times been reborn. This is the story of my three deaths, and my life in between."

Beyond the world building, there are assassins and priests and deceptions and mistaken identities . . . and I enjoyed every very-slow-reading minute of it. I enjoyed Khemri's honest voice throughout the text -- it is a testament to Nix's talent that he makes us fall in love with his prince while we're still struggling to understand the importance of Aunts and Uncles and Bi- and Psu- and Mektech. As promised, I lived with Khemri, grew up with him, and experienced his amazing life from behind his eyes. Ultimately, what is it that makes a Prince a Prince?

If you are up for the challenge, the complexity of A Confusion of Princes will delight and fascinate you. If you're in the mood for a quick read, beware of falling victim to the confusion.

Read more by Alethea Kontis

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