by Garth Nix
read by Michael Goldstrom
Listening Library, 2012. 9.5 hours on 8 CDs. Unabridged.
This book had me mesmerized as soon as I turned it on. I brought a CD into the house to listen to the next complete disc not once, but twice when I got home from work.
Khemri tells you right from the start that this is the story of his first three deaths. Khemri’s a Prince of the Empire, and Princes are mostly immortal. Of course, the Aspect of the Discerning Hand does not have to choose to bring a Prince back to life. If the Imperial Mind is not witnessing the death, they will not come back. And if a new Prince is killed before they gain their contact with the Imperial Mind, they will not come back. But no one tells the Prince candidates that.
So Khemri’s in for a big surprise when his candidacy is over and he’s an official Prince. He doesn’t get to roam the galaxy in his own ship. Fortunately, he has an excellent Master of Assassins, who can help him survive the initial attacks. You see, others of the millions of Princes hope to advance by eliminating some of the competition. In a mere two years the Emperor is abdicating, and one of those Princes will become the new Emperor.
Much of this book is taken up with a fascinating look at mankind’s future in this world. They have mastered three technologies — MechTech, BiTech, and PsyTech. And Princes are enhanced in all three ways. But Khemri gets into a situation where he needs to learn how to live and work in an unenhanced body. He needs to learn how actual unenhanced humans think. That may be the greatest challenge of all.
Through most of the book, I was afraid I was going to get to the end and then hear, “To Be Continued.” But, no, this book is stand-alone, fantastic, and hugely satisfying.
Part of the brilliance of this book is the elaborate future world created. It all works, all makes sense. As Khemri deals with having and not having his enhanced powers, you come to understand what they are and how they work. Another level is what happens inside Khemri. When he’s acting as a regular human, he encounters people who hate Princes and you see him learn to understand and care about them. You see Khemri change and understand why he’s changing.
I also enjoyed the production. There is plenty of telepathic messaging between the Imperial Mind and the Princes and some of the BiTech engineered machines. Those messages are easily designated with a sound effect on the CDs so you can easily understand what is going on.
This is an outstanding science fiction tale that covers what is most important about being human.
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Source: This review is based on a library audiobook from the Fairfax County Public Library.