The Charnel Prince (Kingdoms of Thorn & Bone) Paperback – 21 Oct 2005
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"'Rich, detailed, and always believable... Keyes excels most of all in his characters, who again and again demonstrate unexpected depths and surprising motivations' Locus 'Shames standard sword-and-sorcery efforts by playing for tragedy and real jeopardy' Time Out"
The Briar King has woken and, with the aid of monsters formerly found only in folk tales, is destroying the forest and the people who live on its bounty. Aspar White, the kings forester, has been assigned the impossible task of killing the fearsome newcomer, but will discover that nothing about the Briar King is as straightforward as expected. Meanwhile Leoff, young composer and self-professed coward, becomes embroiled in the horror of a town's destruction motivated by an intrigue that leads him to the aid of Muriele, widowed Queen of Crotheny. As she fights to save her family, the queen despatches a trusted knight, Neil, to save her youngest daughter in whose hands may rest the entire kingdom's future. But as prophecies, saviours and assassins close in, the mothers plan may leave Princess Anne and the kingdom as vulnerable as ever. Rich, detailed, and always believable . . . Keyes excels most of all in his characters, who again and again demonstrate unexpected depths and surprising motivations Locus Shames standard sword-and-sorcery efforts by playing for tragedy and real jeopardy Time OutSee all Product description
Top customer reviews
It's not as grand as the Malazan books or George Martin's saga, and there i think is it's unique selling point. It has a back story that has just enough depth, there are numerous characters, but not so many that you lose track - yet the plot is compelling. I can't wait for part three. Just out of interest, does anyone know how many books wil complete the series? I'm not sure i can prepare myself for another marathon run like Robert Jordan.
The biggest compliment I can give to Keyes is that I wish this series was done. Right now. I want to be able to read the rest of this and see how it comes out. Unlike The Briar King, Keyes ends this book on a bit of a cliffhanger. While Keyes doesn't break up the action with a vivid cliffhanger, one of the main characters is dealt a massive blow in a truly horrifying epilogue that shows just how evil one of the villains can be. What's even worse (or better, you could say) is that I had really grown to love this character, which made the ending even more of a shock. It left me with a pit in my stomach, which to me demonstrates just how good the characterization was.
Keyes continues his deftness at this characterization. Princess Anne is probably the best, as she grows up a lot in the span of six months or so. I guess running for your life will do that to you, but most of the haughtiness has left her by the time she reaches her final scene. She's done the work of washerwomen, been threatened with a marriage fostered in darkness, and realized that the love of her life isn't quite as pure as she had always believed. All of her arrogance has been blunted by the news of the deaths in her family as well as the mystical fate that seems to be in store for her.
Even better is Leoff, the composer who is on a journey to take a royal commission in the capital, not realizing what he's getting into. He's the true innocent, doing what he believes is right no matter what the consequences. The music in his heart and all around him captivates him, and the chance to write a piece of music that is unlike all others, despite what the church might say, draws him like a moth to a flame. His relationship with young Mery, who he finds hiding in his room, is wonderfully charming and innocent, as he takes the young girl under his wing and teaches her music. It's interesting to watch him deal with all of the political maneuvering going on around him because he is such a non-political creature. While he agrees to help Queen Muriele by composing a piece that will be unmatched, we get the feeling that he's doing it more to compose a piece like that than because he truly wants to help her. He is a good man, however, trapped in a world that could chew him up too easily if he missteps.
There are too many other characters to name them one by one, but they are all wonderfully done, with the small exception of Robert. He comes off a little flat in this one, possibly because of his circumstances. Thankfully, those circumstances do ultimately become interesting as we find out why he's around and what those circumstances are, as well as what they mean for the rest of the world. He is still, however, rather dull by himself. That he is the only one is a marvel, though, considering how many characters populate this book. Even the bit parts are well-rounded, given enough depth to be interesting even without delving deep into their background.
Everything else about the book is great, as was the first book. The prose, the world-building, everything. Keyes has created living, breathing societies that are all interrelated yet distinct. The religion is especially interesting. One can mildly criticize him for making yet another series where the church is on the side of the bad guys, but there are enough holy loners to make it clear it's not the religion itself at the center of the evil. It's just the men who have climbed to the height letting the power get to them.
The only bad thing about the book is the massive coincidence that brings together three of the disparate plotlines to the same place at the exact same time at the end of the book. Two of the three can be explained, as one of the characters is desperately tracking another before it's too late. However, the third one just stretched my allowances a little too far. It wasn't enough to completely destroy the book, but it might have if the rest of the book had been found wanting. Thankfully, the book itself holds your attention and won't let it go, so it's easy to allow this coincidence, notice it briefly, and then discard your annoyance because everything else is so good.
The Charnel Prince is a captivating read that grabs you, forces you through the ringer along with its characters, and then dumps you just when you want the book to go even further. I will be anxiously awaiting the third volume. Greg Keyes should be very proud of himself.
The Charnel Prince actually starts relatively slowly at first, but it soon builds up in speed and tension as the events of the first book soon begin to have an effect on Crotheny, and the entire world.
Keyes captures wonderfully the confusion and shock of his characters as they find themselves in a world that no longer conforms to the rules it used to. Death is no longer final, and things roam the world that had previously been constrained to legend and drunken tales of dark places. Whole villages are going missing, the people turning up, rabid and mad, acting as though they were animals, several days -- even weeks -- later. The laws of nature are coming undone, and they don't much care whether any particular human is friend or foe... dead or alive...
Keyes' flair for reinvention -- and originality -- shows as often in The Charnel Prince as it did in its prequel, particularly in the worldbuilding. The easy option isn't taken, and different cultures with different languages and dialects (a lot of research went into linguistics, I'm sure) were presented very realistically. I also particularly enjoyed the way folklore and mythology was used, and the way it varied from village to village, as I did in The Briar King.
There were the occasional scenes that did just feel like reiterations of the ones in The Briar King, however -- Aspar, Winna and Stephen going into the woods, and wandering around for a while before encountering bad guys and the Briar King who may or may not be a bad guy, after all, and then escaping only to encounter the people they were looking for in the first place. Stephen, also, as a character, didn't quite live up to his earlier promise in the first volume, which is a shame as characterisations are where Keyes really excels. With Anne Dare, for example, he takes a haughty character who could be a bit annoying, and by the end of the book she is "queen material", has grown and matured.
Keyes did introduce new characters, though, of which my favourite has to be the composer, Leoff, who travels into the city hoping to find a royal commission, totally unaware of the tragedies that have happened there, and the malicious politics that surround the place. He truly lives for his music, and scenes through his eyes were beautifully written and added a whole new perspective to the violence and evil going on, as he innocently ended up involved in the queen and court's politics. Leoff was commissioned to compose a piece of music which would stir the people up, cheer them, and get them to help fight off the Queen's evil oppressors -- the actual concept I find slightly less than plausible, but the way it was written was wonderful.
Overall, while this does suffer from "middle book syndrome" a wee bit, and isn't quite as compelling as The Briar King, this is a book by Greg Keyes, remember -- and is thus, still leaps and bounds better than many books I've read this year! Well-realised, with characters you care about, and a master storyteller's pen at the wheel, it's highly recommended. The next book in the series is The Blood Knight.
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