THE CHARNEL PRINCEA novel by Greg Keyes
(2004, Del Rey)
Kingdoms of Thorn and Bone, book 2
As a murderer takes the Emperor's throne, the princess evades assassins and the Church attempts to awaken evil spirits in an attempt to save the world.
-- First reading (hardcover)
An excellent continuation to this series. I am growing fond of many of the characters, and seem to be getting used to the writing style, because I had no trouble with it at all, counter to what I wrote in my review of The Briar King.As in the previous book, most of the characters wander around the kingdom with no idea of what they are supposed to do, or what is happening around them. But unlike the previous book, all of the characters take some action that changes the directions of their particular stories, bringing them under some sort of control -no matter how tenuous that control actually is. Spoiler review:
I wonder if the author actually created another language, with vocabulary and sentence structure, and so on, for this trilogy. There is a lot of ancient language used here, whether in verse, swears (Aspar does that a lot), or parts of the blurbs at the start of a new section. I tend to skip over foreign languages, because they are the least interesting parts of fantasy novels, to me, but I wonder how much work actually goes into creating them...
The stories of The Charnel Prince pick up a few months after those of The Briar King left off. As in that novel, most of the plotlines are quite separate; however, many of them meet up by the end.
First there is Aspar, Winna and Stephen, who are sent by the church to kill the Briar King. Instead, they find a Sefry who shows them monks creating a new faneway in the King's Forest, one that turns out to be devoted to an evil saint. Stephen had walked a blessed faneway in The Briar King in order to gain his saint-blessed powers of memory and hearing. They realize the church is doing some evil business, especially when they see a greffyn working alongside the monks. The Briar King attacks the monks, but keeps Aspar alive, much as he healed Aspar at the end of the last book. It obviously knows that Aspar has made the Forest his charge.
Anne, princess of Crotheny and heir to the throne, is trying to make her way back home, after being chased by creatures that cannot die as she left the burning convent where she was being trained. In the last book, she remained a spoiled princess until the very end. Here, she starts out as a nobody washing clothes in order to buy transport across the water to her homeland. She is very nearly found out by the thugs who want her dead, which is everybody. Sir Neil has also been sent to look for Anne, and he finds her at the same time. Because of a lack of trust, she leaves him behind when she leaves, but he follows her trail until they meet again. Anne's Vittellian protector Cazio gets her out of many messes, but he doesn't figure out that she is the Princess until she is revealed at the end.
Back in Crotheny, Queen Muriele, now Queen Mother, as her mentally disabled son rules the throne, tries to keep the kingdom together. With so many evil creatures roaming the land, and entire villages gone mad or destroyed, her enemies have multiplied. Everybody is trying to influence her son Charles, and she has many proposals for marriage. Even the local head of the church tries to threaten her into doing his bidding. It becomes increasingly clear to the reader that the Church is up to something very bad, which is confirmed in the last chapter of the book. They believe the only way to save the world from the evils and disarray of the present times is to do something abhorrent to cleanse it. We don't know what they plan to do, but we will undoubtedly find out in The Blood Knight.
As I suspected, it was Prince Robert, who murdered the Emperor, who woke from the dead in the last pages of The Briar King. I didn't suspect that Muriele's curse was the thing that brought him back. I have never understood curses that keep people alive forever. It might bring them misery in many ways, as the people from Pirates of the Caribbean proclaimed, but they also have the opportunities to do great evil, because they cannot really be usurped, for long. Regardless, Robert returns and takes the throne, but not before Muriele sends Charles into hiding. She is then imprisoned, but still has a few allies.
A new character in this book is the composer Leoff. He is clueless about every kind of political motivation possible, all the way through the book. He helps defeat some people who try to flood the lands around Elsen castle, and earns a commission by Queen Muriele to create a masterpiece of music. Of course, he befriends the wrong people, politically, but little Mery ends up saving him, and he saving her, to his advantage. When Robert takes the throne, Leoff's work is subject to the scrutiny of the Church, which censures much of what he planned (Muriele told him not to worry about the Church, when she could still protect him). But Leoff and Mery overheard the Praefic talking about their plans, and Leoff continued his masterpiece in secret, even recruiting musicians who learned their true parts in secret. When the piece was played at the Yule, he defied the Praefic, but brought the common people to tears and passion. I thought they might topple the Prince and the Church right there, but apparently the time is not yet right. In the end, of course, Leoff is taken to be the first person subjected to the cleansing.
Anne gets to meet Roderick again by the end of this book, and it is revealed that the person she thought she loved was actually manipulating her, until he magically became infatuated with her. Anne, Sir Neil, Aspar, Winna and Stephen all converge near Roderick's father's castle, where a ceremony is underway to activate the last part of the new faneway. Anne has been developing magical abilities over the course of these two books, but apparently hasn't perfected them yet, because almost everybody recovers rather quickly from whatever it is she does to them. Through a convoluted mess that was fun to read -mainly because the characters used all of their skills but were still outmaneuvered until the last second -they kill all involved in that plot. I don't doubt that somebody else will be sent to complete the job before the next book ends, though.
One part of the book I disliked altogether was Anne's communications with "the four faiths". These are apparently prophet-like saints who can meddle somewhat with human affairs, but not too much, and cannot help our characters at all. They spout prophecies like "a queen must sit on the throne", and tell Anne that they cannot see beyond a certain path she wants to take. They are utterly useless, as Anne says at one point. They don't serve any purpose, except to tell us that the world might end if the dark shadow-man ends up on the throne. I could have done without them at all.
By the end of the book, things in Crotheny look bad, as the Church is ready to take control of the kingdom, but Anne stands ready to ride and take her homeland by force, with Aspar, Cazio and the others at her side. I look forward to reading the conclusion.
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