Friday, June 18, 2010

The Charnel Prince

[SPOILY: this post contains Level 5 spoilers for The Charnel Prince, by Greg Keyes.]


Last week I finished The Charnel Prince, book 2 of Greg Keyes' Kingdom of Thorn and Bone series and am already 150+ pages into The Blood Knight, which is book 3.  As I suspected, Robert turned out to be the titular Charnel Prince, even though he didn't make an appearance until quite late in the novel.  For a few hundred pages I was getting a serious Arya vibe from Anne's plotline: she fled to a dusty, foreign land, forced to work as a scullery maid (or equivalent) and, having had her assassination studies cut short, I was half-expecting her to pick them up again with a local purveyor of poison and daggers, but it was not to be.  


There were a few jolts to the plotting in book 2, including Alys Berrye, a much maligned lover of King William, who turned out to be an assassin, and, for a while at least, provided comfort and companionship for  Muriele, and the Briar King, who, it seems, is not such a bad guy after all.  There was also a fascinating woman, Brinna, who has a ship full of sailors at her behest and who rescued Sir Neil from a watery grave, and who I hope returns to the main thread in some form.  The most affecting person I met was a composer named Leoff, who is responsible for one of the most moving, compassionate acts in the series, which I will not go into here: I refuse to spoil it, so rich and nuanced it was.  I love Leoff.


It's starting to feel a little like Keyes has only one story to tell and it starts here - book 1, and ends here - book 4, which does tend to make the drama a bit flat.  There is tension as characters are thwarted from getting where they need to be, but it looks like the only story that matters is that of Anne, and everyone else's story will end when hers does, and she's the Queen so there.  I tend to think that drama comes not only from preventing characters from getting what they want, but also by having smaller, shorter stories that overlap the main story and end at different points along the timeline, in the same way that slate tiles overlap each other: only a few of them touch the sides of the roof but together they make it stronger by the way they connect.  (Hood!  That's an unwieldy metaphor.  Let's forget I wrote it, yeah?)  


Anyway, I wish for a bit more complexity in the plotting but things are proceeding apace, and I've met a number of well drawn characters who engaged me and drew out my understanding and compassion.  I'm already burning through book 3 and am hopeful that Mr. Keyes can keep his plate spinning in the air for another book and a half.


(Books 3 & 4 are The Blood Knight and The Born Queen.  You don't need six kinds of book learning to figure out that The Born Queen will turn out to be Anne, but who is the Blood Knight?  Sir Neil, perhaps?  I wonder, does his heart, already so battered and brittle, finally break, turning him away from the light toward shadowy pursuits?  I'm still waiting for a dark turn in this series, something to remind us what it means to sacrifice or to lose someone important to us, and I feel like books need something like that for them to achieve true greatness.  I'll write about this more when I'm done with book 3 but I'm starting to feel like the characters are shuttling back and forth over the same patch of narrative they trod in book 1 (and the same geography) and, while I'm still very much enjoying the story, I find myself waiting for Keyes to do something bold, something daring with his plot.)


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