Pros: Fascinating premise and gripping plot; characters that grow
Cons: Slow start, poor editing and annoying characters
Rating: 3 out of 5
Review copy courtesy of Night Shade Books.
Review also published on Epinions.com.
The Princes of the Golden Cage is Nathalie Mallet’s debut novel, which explains the combination of raw talent, fascinating new ideas, and rough edges found inside its pages.
The Sultans of Telfar have a long tradition of keeping large harems and having dozens of sons. In times past those sons were given lands and people to rule, the better to prepare them for the future possibility of ruling a sultanate. Then one Sultan’s sons ripped apart the land with their warring over who would be the next Sultan, and everything changed. From that point on all sons were kept in a cage—a large and opulent cage filled with riches of all kinds, but a cage nonetheless.
Prince Amir wants nothing more than to delve into his scholarly studies and avoid the notice of his brothers as they kill each other in their jostling for their father’s favor. Unfortunately, when a mysterious force starts killing his brothers at each full moon, his help is sought—and soon after he becomes the prime suspect. His father’s help is ailing, and Amir has definitely caught his brothers’ attention now. He’s also made the acquaintance of a most unusual brother he’d never met before, one who seems to want to be his friend, something unheard of in the cage—and one who keeps many secrets.
To add to the pressure, an exotic princess from another land has come to stay until the next Sultan is crowned, at which point she’ll become the new Sultan’s first wife. And for Amir, of course, it’s love at first sight. Can he clear his name, save his brothers and father, and keep the princess from marrying one of his brothers instead of himself?
As I did truly enjoy this book, I’ll get the rough stuff out of the way first. The pacing starts off overly slow and meandering, in my opinion. I had difficulty staying focused on the book for the first few chapters. After that it definitely takes off, however, so this is minor.
Either the author or the editor or both relied far too heavily on a word processor’s spell-checker for the editing job. Far too many words have been substituted for with not-quite-right words of similar spelling. Each one is minor, but it’s frequent enough to be just a bit distracting. In a few cases it’s also unintentionally hilarious, such as when Prince Amir “rakes” his brain. Ow!
The characters also have a tendency to be rather annoying, particularly at first. Amir sulks, stalks about, and rolls his eyes so much I wanted to smack him and give him a good talking to. I understand that most of these characters are young, but they grew up in a world that forced them to grow up quickly, and they seemed a bit childish for that. One of the side characters, Darius, one of Amir’s brothers, was practically the most interesting character in the book but it never really delved into his life. The characters are also rather obtuse at points, in that “I need to draw out the plot so they’d best not figure X and Y out yet” kind of a way. I always find that rather frustrating when I come across it.
All that said, this book displays definite talent and imagination, and I do recommend reading it. As I said, this is Ms. Mallet’s debut novel, and Tobias Buckell aside, debut novels aren’t perfect. Part of the fun of a new author is watching them grow as they put out their first few books and learn from the process. The Princes of the Golden Cage displays a great deal of creativity and imagination, and I very much look forward to seeing where Ms. Mallet goes from here!
The premise is highly unusual, and the author does a great job of exploring the wide range of effects such a situation might have on the people involved. The society built up around the harem and princes is highly complex and utterly fascinating.
The plot is enjoyable, with dark magic, demons, and curses slowly taking shape as the author shows us what at first seems to be an almost non-magical world. The characters do grow and learn, and Prince Amir does become more likable (thankfully!) and less pouty as time goes on. The culture of Telfar is intriguing and richly detailed, pulling the reader in quite beautifully. Once I had gotten hooked after those first few chapters I could barely put the book down!
The book ends without a cliff-hanger (thankfully) but clearly leads into a sequel. I definitely look forward to reading the next book in the series. Again, I know I didn’t give this book top marks, but I do suggest that you look past that. For the first book in a new series by a brand-new author you expect things to be rough, and there’s enough evident talent here that I have high hopes for the follow-on books.