The Charnel Prince: Flawed but moves story along

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsbook review: The Charnel Prince Greg KeyesThe Charnel Prince by Greg Keyes

The Charnel Prince succeeds in what should be the immediate and least of goals for second books in series — it moves the plot along. The book is well-paced, moving quickly through various storylines and transitioning nicely from one point-of-view to another. The shifts occur smoothly and repeatedly act to increase suspense (some may tire of the tactic; it never really bothered me). The different stories are mostly well-balanced, each carrying its own weight in terms of plot and character. Though I’d say one is noticeably weaker than the others, it doesn’t act as much of a drag on the book as a whole.

There is no “recap” of The Briar King, but Greg Keyes does a nice job of refreshing the reader’s memory without being too obvious and without slowing the book down with a lot of early exposition. The main characters all return, some showing signs of growth, others performing their roles somewhat perfunctorily. Queen Muriel is perhaps the best example of a character who exhibits subtle and continuing signs of natural growth. Some of the characters instead have their changes “announced” to us, either by internal monologue, narration, or the somewhat clumsy remarks of other characters. Keyes also introduces a brand new major character, a composer, who is one of the more interesting characters of the series and whose personal storyline is certainly one of the more unique ones I’ve seen in fantasy.
The boil of internal and external politics and the conflict between pagan and institutional religion, along with the typical individual grasp for power, makes for a stimulating ride. The more personal relationship issues aren’t handled nearly as well, but since they remain mostly understory, they don’t cause too much damage.

Overall it’s a well-constructed and mostly well-written book, with several very strong scenes (especially those involving the composer), but it lacks somewhat a true spark. Some of the characters play out their roles a bit too robotically, some of the character shifts are too quick, the storyline involving Aspar and friends is weak in comparison to the others, and some of the plot points a bit too well-worn: secret passages in the castle, brilliant plotters allowing themselves to be overheard plotting (twice), mysterious aid coming out of nowhere at just the right time. None of these are major flaws, none of them bring the book to a screeching halt or make it a bad book. But they do make it a flawed book, one that despite its quick readability doesn’t tug the reader along or make him/her ache for more. Having seen these characters through two novels now, and with all the pieces seemingly in their place, the time is ripe for the third book to transcend the first two in inventiveness and characterization. The composer character in this one is a good sign.

Published in 2004. When the legendary Briar King awoke from his slumber, a season of darkness and horror fell upon the Kingdom of Crotheny. Now countless breeds of unspeakable monsters roam the countryside. An epidemic of madness has transformed peaceful villagers from the wildlands into savage, flesh-eating fiends. In Eslen, King William has been murdered, Queen Muriele is stalked by treachery on every side, and their last surviving daughter, Anne, has fled the assassins bent on destroying her family. Close on the heels of the runaway princess, young knight Neil MeqVren, the queen’s one trusted ally, is sworn to rescue Anne from her murderous pursuers. Anne herself undertakes a perilous journey toward the sanctuary of her distant paramour’s arms, but along the way lie the sinister agents and hidden snares of a sprawling conspiracy that few might hope to evade. At the same time, spies in the service of Praifec Hespero, the powerful Churchman, embark upon a mission to destroy the Briar King in the heart of his domain. And the power-hungry Church, spurred on by the mystical events, has launched an inquisition whose repercussions threaten even the queen. As the noose of intrigue tightens across the land, personal fates and a kingdom’s destiny alike will be decided in a conflict between virtue and malevolence, might and magic. Here then is Book II of The Kingdoms of Thorn and Bone: intoxicating and harrowing, passionate and grand–it is Greg Keyes’s most ambitiously imagined and vividly rendered work of epic fantasy.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsGreg Keyes Kingdoms of Thorn and Bone: The Briar King, The Charnal Prince, The Blood Knight, The Born QueenGreg Keyes Kingdoms of Thorn and Bone: The Briar King, The Charnal Prince, The Blood Knight, The Born QueenGreg Keyes Kingdoms of Thorn and Bone: The Briar King, The Charnal Prince, The Blood Knight, The Born Queen


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BILL CAPOSSERE, who's been with us since June 2007, lives in Rochester NY, where he is an English adjunct by day and a writer by night. His essays and stories have appeared in Colorado Review, Rosebud, Alaska Quarterly, and other literary journals, along with a few anthologies, and been recognized in the "Notable Essays" section of Best American Essays. His children's work has appeared in several magazines, while his plays have been given stage readings at GEVA Theatre and Bristol Valley Playhouse. When he's not writing, reading, reviewing, or teaching, he can usually be found with his wife and son on the frisbee golf course or the ultimate frisbee field.

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