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on 27 February 2006
I came across book one a couple of weeks ago and bought it to fill the time whilst waiting for George martin and Steven Erikson's next books. I was hooked almost immediately, I had to buy book two and read this in one sitting. The story is not complicated, the pace is quick and there are some characters that you genuinely like. The evil is not palpable yet but i can imagine that the books will get darker in forthcoming volumes. Sometimes it feels a little formulaic, but there is a quality to this that sets it apart from the standard fare.
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.
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on 29 October 2004
With The Briar King, Greg Keyes created a masterpiece of a first book, so much so that it would be almost impossible to keep it up at that level. He tries very hard, however, and almost succeeds. The Charnel Prince suffers a bit from "middle book syndrome," but not as much as some series I've seen. Keyes keeps the tension high, introducing some wonderful characters to take the place of those killed off in The Briar King. The book is marred only by a massive coincidence that, while it can be explained, still strains the suspension of disbelief a bit.
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.
David Roy
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VINE VOICEon 6 September 2008
The Charnel Prince is the sequel to Keyes' fantastic 2003 novel, The Briar King (Kingdoms of Thorn & Bone), first in the The Kingdoms of Thorn and Bone series.

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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on 17 November 2005
This series is shaping up nicely. The book is fast-paced and well crafted, making a nice contrast to *certain* other authors working on epic fantasies at the current time.
The story in this book follows 6-7 main characters, all of whom are on the same side and are easy to sympathise with. There are some nice twists and a few mysteries. The plot is not completely black and white (although not too convoluted) so there are always questions. Most characters are on quests or doing 'active' things which tends to keep the action going throughout. There is some nice witty dialogue, especially from the Vitellians (Italians!). It also has more fantasy elements than the previous book, with unkillable knights, a variety of monsters and some magic.
I have given it four stars because it lacks some rather fundamental elements that I think a fantasy book requires:
1. The first is a map. Some go over the top, some just do the bare bones... but Keyes doesn't have one at all. He does a fair bit of geographical description and without a visual reference I found it rather frustrating.
2. The second is the lack of background to the characters and places. Tolkien wrote tomes to support Lord of the Rings; Martin has 50 pages of family trees in each book; most books have a list of characters; Keyes has nothing.
In short we are not told enough as the story develops. I understand it is important to only reveal key plot elements as you go along- especially with book paced like this - but the reader knows significantly less than the characters, which undermines the impact of certain events.
However, this is not significant enough to make a big difference to the score. This is a good book, an easy read and I look forward to the next in the series (particularly if Keyes can provide a bit more background - the Roanoke connection is most intriguing).
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on 7 September 2008
Greg Keyes is one of the most sophisticated writers of fantasy fiction, capable of transcending the genre with his concepts, and produces much better, textured, nuanced prose than many fantasy writers. The concept of this series is extremely ingenious, and I can't wait to see how it will work out. Plotting is rather typical of fantasy novels, but it is extremely well done; and, at times, the prose in this really reaches splendid heights. This shows Keyes is, I think, with Robin Hobb the best of contemporary fantasists, for dealing with emotions, relationships and religious ideas that normal genre fantasies, albeit telling often wonderful stories, deal with inadequately.
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VINE VOICEon 6 December 2007
I enjoyed "The Briar King", even if I did not love it, and it's pretty much the same story with the follow-up in the four-book "Kingdoms of Thorn and Bone" series, "The Charnel Prince". I think I actually enjoyed this book a little more than the first one, but not enough to significantly raise the star rating.

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.
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VINE VOICEon 8 April 2006
Grey Keyes continues to impress in the "Kingdoms of Thorn and Bone" series.
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.
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on 12 January 2015
Very enjoyable. Normally middle series books are quiet dull but this really gripped me from the start.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 11 August 2008
Picking up where The Briar King left off, the second volume of The Kingdoms of Thorn and Bone ups the stakes and pace significantly. The Kingdom of Crotheny is in turmoil and the capital, Eslen, seethes with those who would take advantage of the crisis to snatch some power for themselves. A composer, Leoff, finds himself elevated to the court after an unexpected act of heroism and made a pawn in the struggle between the Queen Mother and her sworn rival. Meanwhile, Princess Anne remains on the run with a small band of companions, and their flight back to Crotheny from the distant south is fraught with peril, whilst Sir Neil is sent on a quest to find her. Aspar, the king's holter, finds himself recruited by the Church and charged to hunt down and destroy the monstrous Briar King, but within the forest he soon finds that not all is as it seems...

The Charnel Prince is a solid continuation of this intriguing series. It's similarly as fast-paced and readable as the first book, and new characters and new storylines unfold that are mostly a match for those that have come before. A few storylines from the first volume are even concluded. Keyes' writing is fluid and well-paced, and the author's own skills at fencing and knowledge of composing come through in the writing, providing a solid backdrop for the story.

There are a few issues. Almost every chapter finishes on a major cliffhanger, which is frustrating as it's often not until several chapters later that we get back to that storyline, meaning that at any one time almost the entire cast of characters is in some form of jeopardy, which gets a little wearying after a while. Also, there are notably fewer twists around this time than in the first book and the second volume is a little bit more predictable than the first. Nevertheless the story ends strongly and leaves the reader eager to tuck into the third book, The Blood Knight.

The Charnel Prince (****) is available from Tor in the UK and from Del Rey in the USA.
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on 13 February 2016
Brilliant book and a great price
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