The Dragon Page is pleased to present a guest review by Lynda Willams, creator of the Okal Rel Universe, and EDGE SF author
Nathalie Mallet sets up the problems faced by her hero, Prince Amir, on the very first page of her lively novel, The Princes of the Golden Cage. From that point on, she artfully entwines a mystery with a journey of self-discovery that includes a motivating love interest on the side. The characters are individuals from the start, and the tale beguiles the reader with a story-telling armoury drawn from the best tradition of secret passages, hidden identities, supernatural thrills and dramatic combat.
At the center of the story is Prince Amir, a decent young man despite his life's alarming circumstances who longs to survive the struggle among his brothers over who will succeed their father as sultan so he can fulfill his dream of exploring the world beyond. Unfortunately for Amir, he has over two hundred brothers and must live with them inside the confines of a palace governed by formal rules of combat and gangs led by stronger contenders for the throne than himself. His strategy has been to trust no one and disguise his own strengths in the hope of escaping notice but this, too, his risky because his loneliness and isolation can pitch him into periods of hopelessness. At the start of the novel, his only companions are two mentally ill brothers and his precious books.
Amirâ€™s very reputation as a reclusive scholar gets him drawn into investigating the eerie deaths of his brothers when some supernatural evil begins to harvest them once a month when the moon is full. In the process, he makes the acquaintance of an eccentric but friendly brother named Erik who turns out to be much more important than Amir thought. Because of Erik, Amir becomes embroiled in the struggle for the throne, like it or not, and entangled in the schemes of powerful women, including the beautiful and well-educated princess intended for whoever wins the throne. Politics and personal desires create good chemistry for action with high stakes, emotionally.
The setting in which the novel takes place has a charm of its own. The insider view of life as a surplus prince is plumped out with stolen glimpses of the harem and tales of the past that haunt the present. But Amir himself is definitely the best part of the book. Impelled to act by circumstances and leery of his own better impulses, he betrays a good heart through his choices and his thirst for friendship. His moody hours are easy to identify with and his fear of betrayal is completely understandable even though it can seem peevish at times. His flaws make him human and his misconceptions inject humour. Amir is fundamentally an optimist, game to carry on with whatever comes his way and bold enough to brazen his way through the rough spots. I look forward to seeing him in print again.
The Princes of the Golden Cage is a rewarding read for anyone with a taste for historically based fantasy, a supernatural mystery or just a fondness for charmingly flawed, heroic characters struggling to find their way in life. It is suitable for readers of any age sophisticated enough to understand the historical setting and young enough at heart to enjoy evil genies and a bit of sword play.
The Princes of the Golden Cage, by Nathalie Mallet
Published by: Night Shade Books (Aug 22, 2007)