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Book Review: The Princes of the Golden Cage by Nathalie Mallet

Genre: Mystery, Fantasy
ISBN: 1597800902
ISBN-13: 9781597800907
Format: Paperback, 256pp
Publisher: Night Shade Books
Pub. Date: August 2007

Nathalie Mallet�s debut novel, The Princes of the Golden Cage, hits the ground with both feet and takes off running. From the very first page the action is heart-pounding, the intrigue mysterious, and the story creative.

Prince Amir and his brothers are all sons of the Sultan and his harem. Due to divisiveness and strife between warring brothers generations ago, the Sultans now place all their sons in a specially designed section of the palace that closely resembles a prison. In it, they are treated like princes, but are never allowed to leave. Added to the lack of freedom is their fear of each other. In this cage, each brother is seeking to become the next Sultan, but in order to do so, one brother must kill or subdue all the others through sanctioned combat. Amir has never sought to become Sultan and has kept his head down and in his books. But events out of his control are catching up with him. A killer of a magical nature is stalking the halls of the princes� cage, and its victims die horribly. When Amir is fingered as the culprit, he must team up with his blond haired brother Erik to solve the unsanctioned murders before he loses his head or falls victim to his brother�s murderer.

Mallet has created a medieval Arabian setting reminiscent of the tales of Scherezade in the 1001 Arabian Nights. In fact, as the story is written, it could have been one. Amir relates the events from his own perspective, and the reader almost gets a sense of him relating the story of these events to us over a campfire years later. Mallet has a conversational style of writing that leads the reader to feel that Amir is talking to us, giving us the play by play of the narrative. This made the reading light and easy. Its first person perspective is a help, not a detriment, as it also allows Mallet to keep a sense of mystery in the story, as the reader only knows what Amir knows.

And for this story, that sense of mystery and intrigue is essential. Mallet does a great job of creating varied characters, all of whom provide excellent suspects. Nor does she resort to deus ex machina to solve the mystery she creates. Amir follows a step by step trail of clues that lead the reader to a fitting and surprising conclusion. After I finished the book, I thought back on the story, and saw all the clues that Mallet had given me, but that I had glossed over in choosing other suspects as the murderers.

And this is a mystery fantasy novel. A peculiar subset of the fantasy genre, it combines a mystery with the magical elements of fantasy. Often, this results in a story that sets up a deus ex machina type solution. Some magical element is forgotten or not known about by the reader, and ends up being the key to the solution. Most mystery readers dislike this, as we prefer to follow a trail of clues to the solution to the mystery. Mystery fantasy novels are often unfair to the reader, who at least wants a fighting chance of guessing �who did it� before the conclusion of the novel. Mallet gives you that chance, but weaves the clues to the solution so subtly into the narrative that you will most likely miss them when you read it.

The Princes of the Golden Cage does suffer some first novel jitters. I found the grammatical structure that Mallet uses occasionally jarring. (I used to be an English teacher, and am very in tune to such things.) Mallet is a Canadian, and her English is different from my American version, so it is possible that her structure might just be chalked up to that. However, I got used to it after a few pages, and while I recognize that I might not have put together a sentence the same way she did, it is not wrong per se. Most readers who haven�t been English teachers would even notice. I also noticed a few odd mistakes. At one point she mentioned the word �Slovakian� to describe people from a foreign country, but previously she had established people from that country with a different name.

Still, the action was a lot of fun to read. Her fight scenes, while short, really get your heart pounding. There is a love interest in the story as well, and she is not some mewling sycophant. In fact, most of the primary women characters are strong, each in their own way, and do not take a back seat in this story of dueling princes. The magical elements are a part of the story, but do not drive the narrative, something that is essential when writing a mystery with fantasy elements. It is the mystery and Amir�s character that make the story as fun to read as it is. I especially appreciate Mallet avoiding magic as the only solution, instead relying on a combination of Amir�s intelligence, the help of his friends, and one magical element to provide the ultimate solution to the story.

Nathalie Mallet provides several surprises and plot twists that I, an avid reader of both mysteries and fantasies, did not see coming. Yet she gave me all the clues I needed to solve the murders long before the solution was actually given. Her weaving of the clues into the story was well done. Fans of fantasy will enjoy the Arabian Nights feel of the story. If you have enjoyed the Dabir and Asim stories of Howard Andrew Jones you will like this tale as well. I highly recommend this debut adventure / mystery tale. The Princes of the Golden Cage is a well crafted and enjoyable story.

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