Friday, September 8, 2017

Prince of the Blood

Prince of the Blood
by Raymond E. Feist
Recommended Ages: 14+

Twenty years after the Riftwar (see Magician, Silverthorn, and A Darkness at Sethanon), the 19-year-old twin sons of Prince Arutha are a couple of trouble-making scamps. They certainly don't have the maturity to rule over the Kingdom of the Isles in the world of Midkemia. And now that Arutha has declared his intention to renounce his claim to the throne, should he outlive his brother King Lyam, Borric and Erland are first and second in the line of royal succession. It's a pretty pickle. So, Arutha sends the boys to Kesh, the vast and dangerous empire to the south, to serve as the kingdom's delegates to the Empress Lakeisha's 75th birthday jubilee. Attending them are Barons Locklear and James, who were boys themselves when we last saw them, and (after a stop to visit Pug the Magician) James' new wife Gamina, who can communicate telepathically.

Arutha only hopes the trip will teach the twins some responsibility. But their schooling takes a nasty turn soon after they cross the Keshian border, when their party is attacked by bandits. Believed by all except Erland to be dead, Borric is taken prisoner and cruelly driven to the slave market of Durbin, where is to be sold. He escapes with the aid of a fast-talking beggar boy named Suli, and later joins up with a mercenary named Ghuda and a fun-loving wizard named Nakor. They make their perilous way to the capital city of Kesh, while trying to elude capture by forces who are determined to kill Borric for mysterious, political reasons. Meantime, Erland finds himself unexpectedly representing the Kingdom as its heir presumptive in the middle of a vast, culturally alien court swirling with sex, intrigue, and danger. A high-ranking member of the royal family is murdered, and two nations are brought to the brink of war, before the true nature of the plot is revealed. By then, it's open season on the twin princes and their entourage.

Every book by Feist that I have read, including the massive Magician, I have found easy to enjoy: written in a transparent style, with fast-paced action, romance, humor, and mighty feats of world-building filling every page with fun. Though at times this book felt like a lighter-weight piece of entertainment than the three (or four) I had read before, I came to the end thinking it might have been my favorite so far. I'm not sure that isn't something that's going to happen every time I read another Feist novel. The twins, Jimmy, Locky, Gamina, Ghuda, Suli, and Nakor are compelling characters, and as the two groups pursue vastly different types of adventures, a rich variety of culture and scenery is revealed. The tale abounds in suspense, excitement, Adult Content Advisory-worthy titillation, and intrigue, with differing views about the place of women and attitudes about sex coming in for some comment. And most importantly, the twins' characters are transformed by their adventure.

I have learned to tremble a little when I get to the part of a review of one of Feist's books where I have to describe where it fits into his body of work. Feist himself apparently counts the Riftwar books, listed above, as a trilogy; most everyone else divides Magician into two books (Magician: Apprentice and Magician: Master), and therefore counts the same series as four books. The situation only becomes more complex with this book, which I have seen described as the first of two stand-alone companion novels to the Riftwar saga (the second being The King's Buccaneer) - rather as Belgarath the Sorcerer is viewed as a stand-alone companion or prequel to David Eddings' Belgariad quintet. On the cover of my copy of The King's Buccanneer, however, that book is described as the second book of the "Krondor's Sons" series, apparently taking Prince of the Blood as the first. And on one of my favorite websites for settling arguments about the canon order of various series of books, both books are listed as part of the Riftwar series. I don't want to get into the middle of this, but for the sake of simplicity, I'm going with this last option in my index to these reviews.

Now that that's settled, I can go on to note this five- or six-book series, or trilogy or quartet with two outlying books, or whatever it is, is only the beginning of a literary canon of some 30 books set in the world of Midkemia, which (if I am correctly interpreting the author's acknowledgements to both books) took shape in the collaborative setting of a fantasy role-playing game. Other titles include the "Riftwar: The World on the Other Side" trilogy (co-authored with Janny Wurts), the "Riftwar: Serpentwar" quartet, the "Riftwar Legacy" quartet, the "Legends of Riftwar" trilogy (with various co-authors), the "Conclave of Shadows" trilogy, the "Darkwar" trilogy, the "Demonwar" duad, and the "Chaoswar" trilogy. Most recently, Feist started an entirely new fantasy series with the book King of Ashes.

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