Prince of the Godborn by Geraldine Harris
Seven Citadels, Part One: Prince of the Godborn is an unassuming little novel, and everything I did assume about it was unflattering. At a total of 186 pages, with an intended YA audience, a nondescript cover, and back copy offering the usual promises of princes, gods, and impending doom, I expected a shallow adventure for undiscerning twelve year olds.
I really need to stop being so judgmental.
Kerish is a prince. He’s the favored son of the emperor, and also the youngest of many children. Remarkably, he doesn’t fall into the painfully spoiled or the excessively benevolent prince trope. He acts just like a teenager, albeit a princely one. He occasionally demands unreasonable things, or lashes out in anger, but I never felt any real venom in him. He’s just a kid with the exact wrong amount of power trying to figure out what it means to be an adult and a prince.
Forollkin is Kerish’s elder brother and, as the son of a concubine, not a prince. Remarkably, this hasn’t made him bitter. He enjoys his freedom, and goes out of his way to use his strength and his worldliness to protect Kerish. And though he’s traditionally masculine, he never mocks or thinks less of Kerish for his more delicate sensibilities.
I’ve often said that my judge of a good book is if I’d read a story about the main character(s) going grocery shopping, and I absolutely would.
I’ve read other reviews that said Kerish and Forollkin were inconsistent—they’d lash out at each other only to go out of their way to protect each other. They’d make poor, rash decisions about each other, but face the world with surprising maturity. Honestly, this is part of the reason I loved reading about them. That doesn’t read as inconsistent to me. That reads like they’re brothers.
While the back copy boasts adventure and an epic journey, the majority of the novel focuses on coming to the decision for this journey. It’s not until page 112 that they even leave the royal city. I’m okay with this as we really get to understand Kerish and Forollkin’s relationship, before it’s tested by outside influences.
While the interaction between the brothers is the emphasis of the book, it’s not the extent of it. There’s a confrontation with sea-brigands, a one-on-one with a mad, childish sorcerer, and time spent among a seemingly utopian society. And for being such a pithy little novel, there are some fascinating and through-provoking theological issues raised. There’s moral commentary that is so spot-on that I wanted to slow clap.
All that being said, this is a YA novel from 1982. While the writing is at times beautiful, at other times it’s clearly just a means to get to the next important moment. Sometimes the prose is so simple as to be childish, but, you know, children are the intended audience.
My local bookstore only had the first in the series, but I placed an order online for the remaining three books in the series. And I hate buying things online. Prince of the Godborn felt like if David Eddings wrote YA – I can’t wait to see if the rest of the series keeps this high standard.
Edited to add: countless books later and this series remains one of the stand-out experiences of ForFemFan. I heartily recommend to adults and teenagers alike.
Cover art by: Unknown.