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Literature / A Confusion of Princes

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"I have died three times, and three times been reborn, though I am not yet twenty in the old Earth years by which it is still the fashion to measure time.
This is the story of my three deaths, and my life in between."
— Prince Khemri

A Science Fiction novel by Garth Nix, published in 2012. The Galaxy is ruled by an Emperor, who is due to abdicate in two years. The Emperor's successor could be any one of millions of princes, so naturally the princes want each other dead. The Empire is at war with groups such as the Sad-Eyes, Deaders, and the Naknuk rebels. Its technology is founded on the three 'Teks': Psitek, Bitek, and Mektek. Prince Khemri is released into this world after his extensive training and augmentation, and assumes he'll be respected as a prince and given a position of authority. But as it turns out, to the millions of other princes he is an average, untried teenager and he has to join the navy to prove himself before he can do anything important. When he finishes a year of basic training (and dies for the first time), he is sent on a boring assignment that turns out to be a front for something much more momentous...

This novel provides examples of:

  • Aerith and Bob: The Princes and priests have fantastic names, but among commoners, we see some normal-sounding names like Alice.
  • Ambiguous Gender: The Emperor's sex is never revealed.
  • Babies Ever After: Khemri and Raine are revealed to have had a daughter in the epilogue.
  • Battle Butler: Every Prince is assigned a Master of Assassins, a priest who serves this function.
  • Becoming the Mask: Khemri, after spending enough time with the Kharalchans.
  • Bio-Augmentation: Princes have a combination of this and Cyborg parts.
  • Brain Uploading:
    • This can be done to a Prince just before he or she dies, in order to put their mind into a cloned replacement body.
    • After an Emperor's term is finished, they are uploaded into the Imperial Mind to become part of a gestalt entity.
  • Brought Down to Normal: Happens to Khemri when he gets transferred into an unaugmented body for an Adjuster test. Naturally, he complains a lot in the narration about losing his augmentations.
  • Dead Guy Junior: Khemri and Raine's daughter, Attie Anza Gryphon. Her first name is derived from Atalin, who is not exactly dead. Played straight with her middle name, which is the name of Raine's dead sister.
  • Death Is Cheap: Princes can be resurrected into an identical body if they die while connected to the Imperial Mind. However, the Priests of the Aspect of the Discerning Hand may choose to not resurrect them if they are considered unworthy.
  • Depower: At the end, Khemri is permanently made into a normal human.
  • Escape Pod: Prince Khemri is set adrift in one as part of his Adjuster training. He ends up using it to escape a spaceship explosion too.
  • Everyone Is Bi: It seems to be the norm for Princes to have both male and female courtesans.
  • Foregone Conclusion: The first line of the book states that Khemri will die and be reborn three times.
  • Future Imperfect: Khemri thinks that the gryphon, dragon, basilisk, and sphinx were all real Earth animals and that the dolphin was mythical, but he later finds out that dolphins were in fact real.
  • Good Night, Sweet Prince: Raine uses this quote before she and Khemri put themselves into comas. Khemri is momentarily freaked out when he thinks she knows he is a Prince.
  • Hive Mind: The Imperial Mind is connected to most princes and priests, and they can all communicate via it. It also contains the minds of previous emperors.
  • Hypercompetent Sidekick: Haddad to Khemri at the beginning of the book.
  • Interesting Situation Duel: Khemri's duel with Atalin takes place in a simulation of a snowy mountaintop.
  • Jack of All Stats: It's noted that the Empire is not the best at Psitek or Bitek, but it manages to prevail by being pretty good with all three teks.
  • Living Ship: Some spaceships are based on Bitek, most notably the Heffalurp. It has sphincters for doors, a nervous system to control the ship's functions, a heart, and colonies of ship-lice that manage repairs and connections.
  • Long-Lost Relative: Khemri and Atalin are siblings who were Separated at Birth.
  • Master of Your Domain: The princes have total control over their enhanced bodies.
  • Military Science Fiction: For about a third of the book, until Prince Khemri gets killed fighting a Sad-Eye incursion.
  • Only Smart People May Pass: Khemri encounters a lock that requires him to beat a computer in a chess-like game as a part of his Training from Hell.
  • Plug 'n' Play Technology: Since certain technology may be used centuries after it was built, the Empire designs its tek to be compatible across different generations.
  • Portal Network: Wormholes between different star systems. They can only be passed through one way, so scout ships exploring wormholes also have to find a return wormhole or it could take a long time to get back at normal spaceship speed (which seems to be at sub-light speeds). Many systems have multiple wormhole entrances and exits, which can be closed temporarily by a big enough burst of energy.
  • Puppeteer Parasite: Sad-Eyes burrow into people's heads and take control of their bodies, controlling dozens of other people via Psitek.
  • Psychic Powers: Psitek. Princes and their retinue generally use it for telepathic communication and connecting to the Imperial Mind, but Sad-Eyes use it to control other creatures.
  • She Is the King: "Prince", "priest", and "emperor" are all gender-neutral titles.
  • Show Within a Show: The Achievements of Prince Garikm, a supposedly biographical Psitek simulation that Khemri enjoyed during his candidacy.
  • Sink or Swim Mentor: Prince Elzweko, who facilitates Khemri's Training from Hell.
  • Take a Third Option: In the finale, Khemri has to choose whether to become the Emperor or die fighting the other candidates. Instead, he kills himself at the same time as Atalin (the other remaining candidate) dies, and persuades her as Emperor to resurrect him in an unaugmented body so that he can live a normal life with Raine.
  • Telepathy: Psitek again. Princes use priests to relay to the Imperial Mind and communicate with others telepathically. Some unaugmented humans have innate telepathy, but Princes have a much stronger Psitek connection.
  • They Would Cut You Up: Khemri briefly worries that this might happen to him if the Kharalchans learn that he is a Prince.
  • Think in Text: Colons are used to denote mindspeech.
  • The Unpronounceable: The name of Khemri's Bitek suit. He calls it "Ekkie" for short.
  • What Is This Thing You Call "Love"?: Khemri, due to his upbringing, has no concept of love at first.