Monday, September 25, 2006

Review: The Courtesan Prince

The Courtesan Prince is the first book in the proposed ten book Okal Rel series by Edge author Lynda Williams.

To give a little background info on the series, Ms. Williams' first manuscript to be published was The Throne Prince, which is actually book four of the series. The Courtesan Prince is her second published work, and where new readers are encouraged to start.

The universe of Okal Rel is something that Ms. Williams has been working on since she was eighteen. (Unless I'm misquoting the age, because I neglected to write it down while speaking to her.) As a result, she's very passionate about her work and her characters. Talking to Lynda is a treat—she's friendly, approachable, and sells herself without seeming to forward or pushy. In fact, it was Lynda who sold me The Courtesan Prince.

The series' first novel is an ambitious work, with many characters and multiple interweaving plotlines. It read, to me, as fantasy set in a science fiction setting. That is, no overwhelming science or dry passages detailing the mechanics of space travel or computer functions. That aspect of the novel makes it very approachable. The science is a crucial element of the setting, but is not what drives the plot.

Ms. Williams has created two complex societies in her novel: the Reetions of Rire, and the Sevolites of Gelion. The Reetions are a demographic, open, accepting society that evolved from humans on Earth. The Sevolities are a monocratic, caste-based society that evolved from genetically engineered individuals who could pilot spacecraft at faster than light speed. Both worlds are rich with history and possess highly developed cultures.

The Courtesan Prince revolves around three principle characters: Von, a Sevolite commoner/courtesan; Ann, a Reetion pilot, and Di Mon, a Sevolite Highlord.

The Reetions are trying to establish a second contact with the Sevolites, and certain Sevolites have conned Von into pretending to be a nobleman at this contact. A case of mistaken identity later, Ann and Von are entangled in a complicated Court plot. Someone wants Von eliminated, and there's a missing prince that other characters are convinced is alive and has been hidden from the ruler of the Sevolites.

Most of the novel was well-written, but there are passages scattered throughout that I had to reread several times before I could grasp their meaning due to awkward syntaxes.

It's a bit of a political space opera romance. Lots of sexual encounters between the lines and paragraphs. Nothing incredibly explicit, although the threat of a gang-bang does occur.

Sex is the major motivation for many of the characters. Who they desire and the conflicts it causes within them and their society drives the major storylines.

It's especially clear in Ann's behavior. Even when she's nobly trying to save Von, it's because she's attracted to him. She calls it love, but the love seems to be heavily dependent on their sexual relations. That's what transcends their cultural barriers. I can respect her courage and her confidence, but I didn't really bond with her character or feel the concern that I should have.

Von undergoes radical personality changes within the manuscript, which are explained, but leave him fluctuating between a gooey mass and a killing machine—it's like Jekyll and Hyde in places. For the most part, Ms. Williams can write this inconsistency consistently.

Di Mon, who I did not like at the beginning of the novel, is the probably the only principle character I did like by the end.

My favorite character was Ayrium, the space pirate. She was a strong, interesting female character who barely graces the screen but steals all of the few scenes in which she features.

The relevance of The Courtesan Prince is obvious. It's dealing with intolerance to other cultures. Both the Reetions and the Sevolities feel the other society is primitive and make little attempt to understand it. There's also the matter of complacent surveillance, which by its non-discussion becomes an issue.

Perhaps the most relevant issue is the extreme homophobic tendencies of the Sevolities. They kill a homosexual man if he is discovered—and his children, as the tendency is believed to be passed down from father to child. With the gay marriage issue in America still a hot topic, The Courtesan Prince presents an eerie description of where such venomous intolerance could lead.

While the novel has many redeeming qualities, I found it overall a challenging read due to abundance of minor characters. It would benefit the novel to include a Dramatis Personae separated into families, with indication of which caste they were. (Perhaps Ms. Williams has included family maps on her website?)

I'm certain that this would be an enjoyable novel and series for many readers. While romance isn't my cup of tea, it was nice to try something different. If nothing else, her novel sparked a lot of discussion. Unfortunately, I don't plan to read any of the other Okal Rel novels.

Rating: C+


Sorcha Chumomisto said...

i've been waiting for this review. thank you :)

c.rooney said...

How'd I do?

Sorcha Chumomisto said...

very well. based on the discussion we had, much much better than i could have done.