The Charnel Prince
by Greg Keyes
Review by Madeleine Yeh
Del Rey / Random House HCVR ISBN/ITEM#: 0345440676
Date: August 17, 2004 List Price $23.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
I had hopes that The Charnel Prince would wrap up the story and answer questions posed in the earlier book. This had seemed possible as Greg Keyes' first two books The Waterborn and The BlackGod, were a duology. I was wrong. The Charnel Prince is the second book in the series, with no indications if the series is going to be a trilogy, a quadralogy or something longer.
This was not a disappointment. Keyes picks up all the multiple threads in the earlier story and weaves in new ones. The old story lines concerned Princess Anne and Astaura, Aspar and Stephen, Neil MeqVren, and Queen Murielle. A new character is Leoff, an innovative composer who has arrived in Crotheny to find that the king who hired him is dead, and the kingdom threatened with intrigue.
Princess Anne and Astaura are stranded across the ocean from their home. Their coven school has been attacked by mysterious churchman. The two girls have fled for their lives, aided and accompanied by a young duelist Catio, and his ancient fencing master. They take passage across the ocean and find themselves followed by enemies and moving toward enemies. Princess Anne finds a magic power awakening in her that she doesn't understand.
Aspar and Stephen and Winna are sent out by the head of the Church with special weapons to kill the Briar King.
Queen Muriel finds herself beset by enemies on all sides. The high nobles, the head of the church, foreign diplomats, and her husband's chief mistress are all plotting against her. Luckily most of them are working against each other too.
The most engaging characters is a new one, the inventive composer Leoff. He enters Crotheny to find that the king who hire him is dead, and the kingdom is in horrible disorder. After some adventures, Leoff proceeds to the royal court and find himself immersed in various conspiracies. A chief conspirator demands that he produce a musical composition according to the old socially accepted forms, using standard chords and modes praising the usurpers.
Among the interesting tidbits is the language. The book is full of words that are almost but not quit familiar. Most of these appear to be from the Germanic or Dutch part of Middle English, using a deliberately archaic spelling. Aspar is a holter, from the Middle English word for wood or grove. A fane is an old word for shrine. Gilmer, the windsmith, tends a malen which uses wind powered saglwic to pump water.
This is a wonderful story full of mystery and written in an elegant style with a challenging vocabulary. I like so many aspects of this book. I enjoy the multiple threads. I enjoy the way they interweave and combine. Neil MeqVren encounters Princess Anne, only to lose her, and then be reunited. The fate of Queen Murielle and Leoff are entwined. The characters remain distinct and vivid as does each adventure. I like the mysterious aspect of it. There is little explanation for the magic and motives of the villains. There are so many villains too; ranging from bullying aristocrats, to back alley thugs, to aggrandizing politicians, up to the evil magical conspirators behind the most gruesome villainy. Some explanations are given but the center of the story is still hidden. The world has aspects of Germany and Norway and Italy and Holland without being slavishly copies of their history and culture. I really want to read the next book soon.