The Charnel Prince (Kingdoms of Thorn & Bone - Book 2) Hardcover – Unabridged, 1 Oct 2004
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The second book in a dazzling four-volume fantasy epic of war and virtue, sorcery and betrayal
The Briar King has woken and, with the aid of monsters formerly found only in folk-tales, is destroying the forest and the people living on its bounty. Aspar White, the king's forester, has been given the impossible task of killing the feared newcomer, but in the process he will discover that nothing about the Briar King is as straightforward as he had thought. Meanwhile Leoff, composer and self-professed coward, becomes embroiled in the horror of a town's destruction - which is part of an intrigue that leads him to the aid of Murielle, widowed Queen of Crotheny. As she fights to save her remaining family, Murielle despatches Neil, a trusted knight, to save her youngest daughter, in whose hands may rest the kingdom's future. But as prophecies, saviours and assassins close in, Murielle's plan may leave the girl - and the kingdom - as vulnerable as ever. Praise for "The Briar King": 'The best reinvention of the big fantasy series since George R. R. Martin.' - "Time Out"; 'The most exciting and brilliant opener to a series for a long, long while.' - Alien Online.See all Product description
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He has created a detailed, rich fantasy world with enough hints of dark magic and Things Long Forgotten. This contrasts nicely with the curiously empty worlds of many other fantasy novelists - here we can believe that this is world populated by a cast of thousands, not the 10 people who inhabit the realm of Tad Williams.
The chapter structure is short and Mr Keyes relishes ending each on a cliffhanger - which in the main do not feel contrived and pull the reader onwards in a "just one more page" journey that leads to then end in a single sitting.
The story - it is too complex to detail here, but be assured of questing knights, evil churchmen and complex plotting. I would urge everyone to read the first and subsequent books in this sequence.
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.
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.
Why did I enjoy it more? I think it partly has to do with the introduction of more fantasy elements than were present in the first book. Magic is a little more prominent, as are the exotic beasties and monsters. I dug the various chases and fights more than in the first book, too.
One of my complaints was that a new character who is introduced, the composer Leoff, never really clicked for me and I was never particularly interested in his story. Also, I am now wondering what the point of the Briar King is, based on what was revealed about him in this book. He's still around, but I am hoping that he has a relevance beyond what we have seen so far, and that this relevance will be discovered in the next book, "The Blood Knight". As it is, he doesn't seem worth having a whole book named after him, and the world-shattering significance that he held in the first book is not in evidence here.
But this is an enjoyable book, and maybe even a little better than the first one. Despite the fact that I hardly think this series is awesome, I have read enough to recommend it to fantasy fans. Incredible or not, you should find it worth your time.