Set twenty years after the events in The Riftwar Saga, Prince of the Blood follows the intrigues and adventures that erupt when a group of powerful nobles attempt to overthrow the Empress of Kesh, bitterly dividing the court. In the centre of the conflict are the two princes of Krondor, Borric and Erlund. When Borric escapes and makes a desperate journey back to the court to warn of the traitors’ plan – which, if they were to succeed, would start a war that would tear the Empire apart.
Welcome back to the Midkemia reread. This week it’s time to take a look at Prince of the Blood, the first of two stand-alone novels, which Feist wrote after finishing the Riftwar Saga. In my memory of it Prince of the Blood was one of my favourite books in the entire Riftwar Cycle, as I loved the intrigue and adventure of the story. And while I still massively enjoyed Prince of the Blood, held to today’s standards there are some serious problems in its portrayal of the Keshian royal ladies. So even if this book hasn’t been visited by the Suck Fairy per se, she did bring some of her friends and that’s sad.
The book jumps forward twenty years and gives us an almost entirely new main cast of characters. Arutha and his generation do make some appearances, but the main focus is on Borric, Erland, Jimmy, Locky, Ghuda and Nakor. Jimmy and Locky are returning stars, but this time they are older, and somewhat wiser, if not on all fronts. I enjoyed seeing these two in their grown-up incarnations and how their friendship had developed. The one thing that was definitely different in this reading was the fact that I didn’t find James’ and Gamina’s love-at-first-sight story incredibly romantic – whereas my younger self did – this time I just went: oh book, insta-love really? which goes to show that this is not an evil invented by YA authors, it was there long before YA became a Thing! The titular Prince of the Blood and his twin, Borric and Erland, make for a fun set of protagonists. The way the boys struggle with dealing with new surroundings, different cultures and values is interesting, even if it also creates a sort of feeling that the Keshians are being othered. The boys see Kesh as an exotic and dangerous adventure, its inhabitants as unpredictable and mysterious. But I like that they are not flawless heroes, they’re normal young adults who still have to discover a lot about the world, who tease their younger siblings, and who rebel against their elders. The personal growth they display during the novel was significant and I think they returned home more mature and experienced, and better men than before their journey.
This novel is most memorable, however, for its introduction of one of the more important characters we encounter in the Riftwar Cycle, the strange little sorceror known as Nakor. Out of all the characters we encounter throughout the thirty book series, Nakor belongs in my top-five favourite characters and even if I haven’t yet read the last five books, I don’t expect that to change any time soon. Nakor is seemingly a free agent, unconcerned with petty politics and life. He has one tenet “There is no magic, just stuff” and that is what he lives by, at least in Prince of the Blood. His endless supply of oranges; his complete disregard for general social niceties; his surprising wisdom and knowledge; and his fun-loving nature all combine to make him irresistibly fun to read about.
As mentioned above, I had some serious problems with the way this book portrayed the Keshian royal women. Tellingly I can’t remember any of the Keshian female names beyond She Who is Kesh, while I can rattle off the other ladies we encounter: Princesses Anita, Alicia, and Elena, Katala and Gamina. Most of the Keshian court ladies are drawn as sex on legs and very much written from the male gaze. Beyond the Empress, there are three women at court I remember, the crown princess, her mother, and one of Erland’s attendants, but again no names—for the record, they were Sharana, Sojiana, and Miya. As someone who is usually very good with names, this is telling for me and also a bit worrying. Even if Keshian society may be intended to be seen as a very liberated society where women are as powerful and free as men, it doesn’t come off that way and that is a shame.
The dual storylines are interesting, but I liked Borric’s much better, perhaps because it was less problematic than Erland’s story set at court. The plot is okay, both the book’s plot and the literal plot that is at the heart of the narrative. Even having read this book before multiple times, I was once again surprised by the perpetrators of the conspiracy if not the resolution. In addition to being less problematic as regards the issues mentioned above, Borric’s storyline I also considered Borric’s storyline more fun due to it’s higher level of action and adventure. While Erland is quickly caught up in court intrigue, Borric is out there surviving and meeting some really interesting people such as Nakor, Ghuda and the little street scamp Suli and really sees all of the faces of Kesh.
Prince of the Blood has left me conflicted. On the one hand I really do love this book, warts and all, on the other hand there is much to be regretted in its treatment of women. And at what point does the argument that the Eighties were a different era stop holding water and become an excuse to overlook problematic elements in a text? I don’t know, but the way Miya and Sojiana especially are described skirts the line quite closely and I think it may just be my fondness for the main characters that makes it hold up to a reread. I think for readers new to the texts or rereader who aren’t as invested in some of Feist’s characters, this book might prove quite problematic.
This review is part of my Midkemia Reread, in which I read all the books Raymond E. Feist wrote, set in the world of Midkemia. For more on the why and how of this series of reviews, check out Midkemia Reread: An Introduction.