Wednesday, 29 August 2007
'The Princes in the Golden Cage' - Nathalie Mallet (Nightshade Books)
As soon as I said that I thought I'd found my fantasy debut of the year I had this weird feeling that the next book I read was bound to be great and I would end up eating my words. While Nathalie Mallett's book didn't quite manage to edge 'Acacia' off its lofty position it ran a very close race and I enjoyed the tale immensely.
From the very first page, we are made aware that all is not well in Prince Amir’s world. Not only does he shut himself away from everyone but he also uses his two mad brothers as an early warning system against attack. Prince Amir is one of a hundred princes imprisoned until the Sultan dies and a successor is chosen from among them. Life is harsh in this ‘Cage’ where Machiavellian scheming is the norm and death a certainty and now things are about to get even worse. Sorcery is striking down Amir’s brothers and he is the prime suspect. Not only must Amir deal with daily life in the Cage but he must now clear his name (and save his brothers) as well. The arrival of a beautiful princess only makes matters worse…
Nathalie Mallet writes like a seasoned professional and I did not believe this was her debut once I had finished reading. The fact that this is her debut book can only bode well for the rest of the series that she has planned. ‘Princes’ is a tightly crafted tale where no plot device is wasted and only an over reliance on secret tunnels stops this book from being perfect. Sometimes it felt like there were more secret tunnels than actual palace and how secret can a tunnel be if everyone uses it? Making the hero an ‘excellent swordsman who only fights when he has to’ also came across (to me) like Mallet was covering her hero against all odds and not actually making him work for it. However, when the rest of the tale grips you in the way that this does then repeated use of the ‘get out of jail’ cards can be excused. The sense of paranoia within the Cage almost leaps off the page and grabs the reader by the throat and I don’t think I’ve read an ‘Arabian Nights’ style fantasy novel where the stereotypical Grand Vizier, dashing swordsman and beautiful princess have felt more at home. Considering this is a relatively quick read (298 pages), the characterisation has to be spot on and Mallet handles this superbly. Each character is vividly drawn and I really felt for the three main players in the tale and what they had to contend with. Mallet plays with the reader by raising expectations only to turn them on their heads a few pages. The climax in particular is a real twist in the tale that I guarantee you will not see coming. I thought I had it figured out but I was completely wrong on that score.
‘The Princes in the Golden Cage’ is a rip-roaring yarn, in the style of Sinbad the Sailor that I think anyone would be hard pressed not to enjoy. There’s a taster (at the back of the book) of what is to come and I’m looking forward to seeing more.
Eight and a Half out of Ten