A hundred petty warlords are struggling to carve their own pieces out of the Broken Empire, the divided remnants of a glorious, high-technology society obliterated in a monstrous war. Little has survived from before that time aside from a few books of philosophy and war, and religion.
Prince Jorg, the son of King Olidan of Ancrath, is a boy of nine when he sees his mother and brother brutally murdered by agents of Count Renar. When Olidan makes peace with Renar in return for a few paltry treaties and goods, Jorg runs away from home in the company of a band of mercenaries. As the years pass, Jorg becomes cruel, merciless and ruthless. He sees his destiny is to reunite the Broken Empire and rule as the first Emperor in a thousand years, and nothing and no-one will deny him this destiny.
Prince of Thorns is the first novel in The Broken Empire, a trilogy which was fiercely bidded over by several publishers before HarperCollins Voyager won the publishing rights in the UK. It's being touted by Voyager as 'the big new thing' for 2011, to the extent where they are even giving away copies to people who have pre-ordered A Dance with Dragons from certain UK bookstores.
This faith is mostly justified. Prince of Thorns is a remarkable read. Well-written and compelling, it is also disturbing. Anyone who's ever bailed on reading Donaldson's Thomas Covenant books because of a horrific thing the main character does a couple of chapters in will probably not enjoy this book either. Jorg is a protagonist with the quick wits of Locke Lamora, the charm and resourcefulness of Kvothe but the moral compass of Gregor Clegane. The book has the protagonists (the word 'hero' is completely incompatible with Jorg or his merry band of psychopaths and lunatics) doing things that even the bad guys in most fantasy novels would balk at, and for this reason it is going to be a challenging sell to some readers.
Lawrence writes vividly and well. The dark and horrible things that Jorg and his crew get up to are mostly inferred rather than outright-described, which is just as well. Lawrence also avoids dwelling on Jorg's physical actions too much in favour of delving into his psyche, working out what makes him tick, presenting these ideas to the reader, and then subverting them. As the book unfolds and we learn more about Jorg's hideous experiences, we realise why he is the way he is, though at almost every turn Jorg also chides the reader for thinking he is trying to excuse himself or beg for forgiveness. He is simply presenting the facts and the context and leaves them to decide whether he is the logical result of circumstance or someone who could have saved himself from this dark path if he had chosen to do so. Lawrence's aptitude with the other characters is no less accomplished, with deft strokes used to create vivid secondary roles concisely and with skill.
Outside of the excellent characterisation, Lawrence paints a vivid picture of a post-apocalyptic world. The ruins of an earlier, technological age (probably our one, though the map suggests that if it is, the geography of the world has been radically transformed, at least in the area the story takes place) paint the landscape, and it's interesting to see references to familiar names and places. The works of Plutarch, Socrates and Sun Tzu have survived, as has the Christian faith, and in the distant east place-names sound more familiar (Indus, Persia). This evokes the feeling of a world broken and twisted, the new rammed in with the old, the effect of which is unsettling (I think it might be what Paul Hoffman was going for in The Left Hand of God, but Prince of Thorns does it much better). I assume more about the world and the history will be revealed in the inevitable sequels. Whilst Prince of Thorns is the opening volume in a trilogy, but also works well as a stand-alone work. Whilst there is clearly more to come, it ends on a natural pause, not a cliffhanger, which is welcome.
This is a blood-soaked, cynical and unrelentingly bleak novel, but it also has a rich vein of humour, and there are a few 'good' (well, relatively) characters to show that there is still hope in the world. There are some minor downsides: a few times Jorg seems to 'win' due his bloody-minded attitude overcoming situations where he is phyiscally or magically outclassed, and there's a few too many happy coincidences which allow Jorg and his men to beat the odds, especially right at the end. There's also an event about three-quarters of the way through the novel which is highly impressive, but may be a bit hard for some fantasy fans to swallow.
Prince of Thorns (****½) is a page-turning, compelling and well-written novel, but some may be put off by its harsher, colder aspects. Those can overcome this issue will find the most impressively ruthless and hard-edged fantasy debut since Bakker's Darkness That Came Before. The novel will be published on 2 August in the USA and two days later in the UK.
on 27 October 2014
The opening chapter of this book involves a band of brigands slaughtering most of the male inhabitants of a village, raping their daughters, looting the corpses and then setting the whole place on fire. All of them seem to be having a wonderful time, particularly the deeply sinister first-person narrator.
Having picked this book up without knowing anything about it other than that it was a highly recommended fantasy novel, I wasn't sure what to make of this attention-grabbing but disturbing opening. Had the author written a prologue that was broadly unrelated to the rest of the novel to set the scene and demonstrate the grimness of his world? Or was the hero going to swoop into the village and be avenged on this bunch of murderous psychopaths? And then, as dying villager muses that his murderer could be no more than fifteen, the chapter ends with the line, "Fifteen! I'd hardly be fifteen and rousting villages. By the time fifteen came around, I'd be King." And I came to a shocking realisation that this sadist was actually our protagonist, the titular Prince of Thorns. Basically, if you've ever read a Song of Ice and Fire and wished that the whole thing was narrated by Ramsay Bolton, then this is the book for you.
The fashion nowadays is undoubtedly for fantasy characters to be presented in moral shades of grey, and often even to be outright anti-heroes. But I've never read anything in the fantasy genre that makes the "hero" so utterly, irredeemably villainous. The closest comparator I can think of is a Clockwork Orange, and the main character, Jorg, did seem to share some characteristics with that books hero beyond his love of ultraviolence - a scene where he sits and reads Plutarch following a massacre particularly jumps to mind. I can imagine some people really struggling with this approach to characterisation, but frankly, I loved it. It made for such a different read and the author did a fantastic job of making me root for Jorg while hating myself for doing so. He also struck a nice balance between explaining his behaviour (trauma and a desire for revenge following the brutal death of his mother and young brother, the need to survive and thrive in a cruel world, a horrible father) without ever excusing it. Jorg is almost painfully self-aware, and makes no excuses to the reader. I have an awful tendency to fall in book-love with villainous characters, but some of Jorg's specific actions as well as his overall attitude to life were sufficiently beyond the pale that I never got to the stage of liking him. Nonetheless, he fascinated me.
While it's undoubtedly both a clever and a well-executed device, an evil hero is by no means all this book has going for it. The world is interesting, firstly because the concept of a hundred little principalities fighting to seize control of what was once a united empire allows for lots of politics and scheming. Secondly, because what it quickly becomes clear that what as first feels like a classic medieval fantasy world is in fact a post-apocalyptic earth where the survivors have lost the use of technology and returned to feudal ways. And somehow also gained a degree of magic - possibly through radiation left behind by a nuclear war, though that wasn't fully explained. I'm not sure this always 100% worked (why would people replicate medieval norms quite so exactly?) but it added an extra level of interest and distinguished the setting from your average fantasy novel. It did remind me a bit of the approach used in the Book of the New Sun series, where what appear to be towers are actually abandoned spaceships, but that's no bad thing.
The plot is entertaining and flows well. The writing is great. It's not over-clever or pretentious, it simply works. At times it's actually quite funny, if you can cope with dark humour. The violence is ceaseless and at times extreme, but it's never really gratuitous or lingered over. Most of the really bad stuff (the rapes, the torture of a bishop by sticking needles in his brain etc etc) happens "off-screen" and is mentioned in passing by characters, not described in loving detail by the author. I'm not someone who likes to read about violence for violence's sake or who will choose to read a book because it boasts of being "dark." I could never get on with Joe Abercrombie's book, partly because the world depressed me too much, but despite the fact that the world and the protagonist presented here are if anything, even darker, it somehow kept me entertained and almost cheerful, swept along by the sheer energy and enthusiasm of the protagonist. In his absolute determination to succeed in his quest to become Emperor of his fragmented world whatever it takes, he reminded me of Lucifer in Paradise Lost, though unlike Milton, Lawrence knows full well he's of the devil's party.
There are some books I'd recommend to nearly everyone. This is not one of them. If you like clean-cut heroes, shy away from violence or simply want to see some signs of joy and goodness in your fantasy worlds, you should probably stay away. But if you're looking for a very different and original fantasy novel and think you can cope with a dark world and a morally empty lead and a ruined world, this is a great and surprisingly fun read.
on 8 June 2014
This is a revenge tale through and through and is a unique fantasy because of the perspective it's told from. I really loved the main character of Jorg (a young 14 year old boy who has been hardened by the treachery of the wilds and scars of the past) as he was so witty and nasty. I certainly felt reminded of Glotka from The First Law series by Joe Abercrombie whilst reading about Jorg, which was a good thing as Glotka was my favourite character in The First Law and so Jorg was certain;y my favourite character in this story.
This is the story of Jorg who has suffered a great deal in his past and when we meet him he is travelling in the wilds with a band of men who all respect him and look to him for leadership, although he is their junior by many, many years. The men he travels with are hard, tough men who have lived a long time by destroying their enemies before they could be destroyed and by deciding their own fates before it was decided for them. They are dark, grisly and nasty, but although they have very few redeeming qualities, they fit in nicely with Jorg who is the most evil among them by far.
Jorg is a harsh leader, never one to shy away from discipline, rather he enjoys the hurt and pain he can cause people and he is twisted in his ideas of good and evil. He sees what is right, and chooses the path the furthest from that. He is someone who is feared all across the land, he's known as a the Mad Prince...because he is a Prince, but he ran away when he was just young, in search of vengence and justice and revenge for something truly disturbing that made him how he is today.
The story is told through two parallel storylines, one is present day where Jorg is travelling with his brothers and pillaging villages and searching for revenge, and the other is set 4 years earlier, before he left his home to go on the road with a bandit group. The second storyline fills us in about what it was that drove jorg to become what he is today, and I enjoyed both storylines equally.
I would certainly say that besides Jorg none of the other characters by the Nuban and Makin really made an impression on me. The Nuban seems to be one of the few characters who is truly not as bad as he seems and had a bit of a conscience which Jorg looked up to and respected, whilst Makin was the Captain of the King's Guard before he chose to follow Jorg instead. Bothe of them feature heavily in the story, so I remember them more, but the other brothers are also described here and there and they are all pretty gruesome.
This story is a very fast paced one and is mostly driven along by the voice of Jorg telling you what he is thinking and wishing to do to people. It's not one for the faint hearted as they are ruthless criminals, but it is a very fun and fast paced read so I would recommend it if you like those qualities. I will be continuing with the series in the future and I look forward to seeing what becomes of Jorg after this roller coaster of a tale!
on 15 May 2014
I started on this series from an online recommendation for fantasy. I have been reading the genre since its presence in bookshops consisted almost entirely of Tolkien, Howard and a couple of others, and have become very jaded trying to find something original and interesting.
I'm so glad I found this.
The books are very dark, but they are also shot through with a black humour that had me laughing out loud. The main character is not to be liked, but I couldn't help admiring him - someone who takes immediate and direct action without regard for anything but his own ends, but who also grows and changes throughout the series. Who is competent but not all-powerful, loses sometimes, learns, leads and manipulates. The series presents a large canvas, beautifully detailed.
The author reveals his secrets slowly and carefully, and confronts the reader with constant challenges to a safe, morally certain way of thinking. What if you can prevent greater death and destruction by wreaking a little less earlier on? How far do you go to get what you want, who will you sacrifice and with what honesty and self-knowledge? Does that make a difference? And in the end, is this character what you thought he was?
But don't get the idea that this is all philosophy - the action is frequent, visceral and often surprising in its unexpectedness.
Books that made me think and laugh, surprised and entertained me, and kept me up far too late at night reading just a little bit more - and also had me watching the position marker on my Kindle creeping towards the end, dreading the end of such a fine tale.
That's why I keep reading fantasy, because once in a while I find something like this.
on 3 May 2014
This book I picked up on promotion when pre-ordering A Dance With Dragons. It was reviewed to be the ‘British answer to George R R Martin’s Game of Thrones’. As a fan, I welcomed the brag and duly read forth. I can tell you now, that I was not disappointed.
We find Honorous Jorg Ancrath, a fourteen year old prince, has travelled from the confines of his father’s lands and is mercilessly razing towns and villages to the ground with his band of rugged, murderous road brothers. On a quest for vengeance, Jorg is a young man nurtured and fuelled by his own deliciously potent internal darkness, which claws at the reader’s mind from the pages, taking hold. I found the first hand account, with its vigorous descriptions and conversational tone, gripping to say the least. This was one of those books where the world around you shrinks in so that your world consists only of that which is oozing from the pages before you.
Prince of Thorns offers multiple interesting snags for us. One of these being how, despite the apparent late medieval setting of it, in a world not dissimilar to how ours would have been at that time, we have recognisable names of note dropped in on us as we read. Philosophers and scholars whose works we are familiar with are mentioned as being a part of Jorg’s academic education, and the names of global locations differ very little from our own, while remaining unique. Such snippets are a fabulous tool with which to pique our interest, and certainly left me wondering over the context. Such context is gently and sparsely supplied through four-years-prior flashbacks of Jorg’s past, and what we discover is always perfectly placed.
As mostly a fantasy sci-fi reader, I revel in stories where the world is not overly far-fetched, where the majority of the world and its workings can be logically underpinned, and the magical content is not ridiculously overbearing. Lawrence has provided such a world in this first instalment, injecting a comfortable amount of disturbing magical presence into his land, seasoning it with our character’s shallow understanding of its workings. A powerful, intimidating, and succulent blend.
This first third of The Broken Empire saga drew me in and had me turning the first pages of its sequel King of Thorns before I’d even managed a fresh coffee, having polished this one off with gusto. Although there were some doubts over its recommendation and direction, Jorg as a logical, intelligent, and ambitious character had me dying to know how he’d get what he vowed to do done (and no doubt my dying would be an event he’d savour, from what I’ve read). Generously recommended, but not for those with a distaste for blood and more than a little gore.
For more and upcoming reviews find me at lovelessliterature.blogspot.co.uk
on 28 December 2013
"The Prince of Thorns" has magic and knights and kings and all that fantasy stuff but this isn't your usual fairytale! The book and all its characters are vile, disturbing, disgusting and utterly compelling. The violence is extreme, the main character is a homicidal maniac, a rapist and is devoid of any moral or redeeming features. I don't consider any of this a flaw, on the contrary! However I understand this might not be everyone's "cup of tea" and as such, there it is!
"The Prince of Thorns" is quite simply magnificent. Its an addictive read, with stupendous pacing, a wonderful "universe" that's full of wonders still to explore in the next volumes, amazing action sequences and strangely attractive characters.
Mark Lawrence writes with such energy and brutality that the pages just flow perfectly and the reader is completely lost in a wonderfully sadistic and brutal tale.
My only complaint is that the book seems to end a bit abruptly and that some plot points could use more development which I hope happens in the next volumes. 100 more pages would have been nice! Oh so nice!
Its a triumph of Lawrence's writing how such despicable characters, murderers and thieves, the lot o'them, can become such compelling characters. Jorg especially is presented as the monster he is, with no attempt to excuse his actions but with the story behind him which made him into what he is. The reader can make his own judgment and I suppose such verdict, about the book's anti-hero, may impact one's enjoyment of "Prince of Thorns". I was fascinated by his ruthlessness but also his courage, his fantastic mind for battle and his inner battle with his demons and urges.
There are some obvious influences here, like "Game of Thrones" but Lawrence has given it his own spin and touch and created a tale that feels fresh, addictive and amazingly entertaining. While there are some attempts at going deeper into human psyche and tackling some deeper issues such as character building and even philosophy, "Prince of Thorns" is primarily about entertainment. Its a bit too "popcorn blockbuster" but never boring and so much fun and satisfying that you have to forgive some of its excesses. The battles are well written and imagined and even with all the blood and deaths, nothing ever feels gratuitous or over the top silly.
Its a great start to what promises to be a fantastic trilogy, with a flawed and compelling character, a mysterious "world" and lots of political intrigue and battles. Its raw, dirty and seedy but irresistible.
Well done, Mr. Lawrence. Well done!
on 17 July 2013
Set in the 100 Kingdom's, this is the story of Jorg, the titular Prince and his gang of 'Road Brothers'.
It is clear from the start that Jorg and the brothers are not nice people. They roam the land looting and burning more or less everything and everybody they come across - and Jorg, although the leader, is only 13.
Please don't let this put you off because the differences between Jorg and many other fantasy heroes is what makes this a refreshingly different story (although it probably strikes as similar to Game of Thrones - can't say for sure as I haven't read GoT).
Early on in the story Jorg decides (or is it decided for him?) that he will turn for home and claim his birthright as the son of the king. We learn through flashbacks how Jorg came to be where he is, and these flashbacks really and meat to the bones of what is already a meaty story.
The world of the 100 Kingdoms is our world way into the future after what seems like a massive nuclear event. There are many hints at this, most intended (Jorg reads the likes of Plato, Euclid, Nietzsche and Sun Tzu) and some maybe not so ("Hangings, beheadings, impalements - oh my" - reminiscent of "Lions and tigers and bears - oh my" from The Wizard of Oz, but of all things, would The Wizard of Oz still be remembered several thousand years in the future?). The church is still around, much as you would expect in a medievil setting with 'Dear Jesu' an oft spoken phrase and references to Ave Maria, David and Goliath, Gog and Magog etc.
They also still read and quote Shakespeare in both natural (Is this a dagger I see before me) and bastardized (Now is the winter of our Hundred War made fearsome summer by this prodigal son) forms.
The story has everything you could want from modern fantasy - heroics, quests, betrayal, all set in a well realised land and with characters you will come to enjoy (for all their foibles). It is followed by two more books (King of Thorns - out now and Emperor of Thorns - out August 2013) and if they are half as good as this one I shall be a very happy reader.
on 15 July 2013
The question this book seems to have raised in many circles is whether you have to like a protagonist to enjoy a book. In my opinion, Prince of Thorns delivers an emphatic 'no' to this question.
Jorg, the man who would be king and then emperor, is without doubt a despicable human being. His evil acts are many and varied, including rape, mass murder and looting. And yet, thanks to Mr. Lawrence's unapologetic and splendid characterization, the story of his rise is utterly compelling.
That isn't to say we don't see flashes of Jorg's humanity. We are given very clear reasons why he is the way he is, and as the book progresses you increasingly see that he is struggling to contain this human side in order to achieve his goals.
The fact that, as a reader, I found myself rooting for somebody I would despise in real life is a testament to Mr. Lawrence's skill. I bombed through this in a few days, and would have read it faster had it not been for life getting in the way.
I had one slight disappointment with the ending, which I don't want to reveal as it would be something of a spoiler. Suffice to say that I had hoped to see more of Jorg's internal struggle at the denouement. Instead, we see and feel nothing despite the many hints throughout the book that this would be a crucial moment in Jorg's young life.
Still, the final line was a cracker, and absolutely summed up the philosophy of the main character and the book.
Hats off to Mr. Lawrence for this splendidly savage addition to the fantasy genre.
on 27 September 2012
Based in a post-apocalyptic world, where the European society has been thrown back into the middle ages, the Prince of Thorns tells the tale of Jorg, a young, rouge prince with a dark past and an even darker future. Jorg is the son of the King of Ancrath, a small Kingdom in where we would call central Germany. However, Jorg is not a man of privilege. After witnessing the murder of his beloved mother and brother at the hands of Ancrath's biggest rival the Count of Renar, and his father's lack of response to their murders, Jorg decides to become an exile and seek his own revenge from the Count!
To do this, Jorg frees a band of mercenaries from his father's dungeons. Through hard work, cunning and pure ferocity Jorg manages to become the leader of these `Brothers' and wreaks havoc across the countryside, pillaging and destroying villages as he and his men please. After a few years of running wild, Jorg realises that he has drifted away from his goal of killing Count Renar and decides to return home to his father and Ancrath. However, what he finds back home is something he does not like!
His father has remarried to a young woman and has already made her pregnant. Jorg is furious that his father can forget his mother's death so easily. His father's new advisor also angers Jorg, for he is a dream-witch called Sageous, a dangerous person to be around! Nevertheless, Jorg wants to stay in Ancrath and lead its men. His father does not believe Jorg is man enough to lead troops and sets him out on a quest, to capture the lands of Gelleth to Ancrath's East. Gelleth's main fortress is Castle Red, an impregnable stronghold. Jorg knows his task is difficult, but with his cunning and the help of his Brothers he manages to find a route under the city in the caves left by the `Builders', a race that destroyed themselves with the detonation of hundreds of `suns' (bombs). In these caves, Jorg and his band of Brothers uncover a race of monsters called Lueucrota who agree to help them through the caves. But, the Lueucrota are not the only things living under Castle Red. The caves are also home to Necromancers, a group of mages that live and feed off the dead. After an epic battle with these Necromancers, Jorg cuts out and eats one of their hearts and gains some of their power!
Jorg and his men find what they are looking for under Castle Red, an ancient Builder `Sun' and detonate it, destroying all of Castle Red and effectively handing his father the lands of Gelleth. However, on his return to Ancrath, Jorg finds that he is betrayed by his father and Sageous and is left to die. Luckily, the Necromancer's heart saves him and puts him back on his original journey- to kill the Count of Renar. However, it is now not just for revenge, but to create himself a Kingdom in which he can destroy his father's!
This book was an amazing read but as some of you may know, there is some controversy surrounding it. I feel that I should take a few moments to describe what and why that is. The reason the book is controversial is because the protagonist, Jorg, is a rapist. Now, I must say that I do not condone what Jorg does in the book. However, I would say that as a character it makes Jorg much more believable because he is a dark and often evil character. I feel Lawrence was right to add this to Jorg's journey and I think he does so in a tasteful way. He does not describe any aspects of the rape; he just writes how Jorg remembers doing it. I do not think this is unlike any other fantasy or historical-fiction novel, apart from the fact that it is the protagonist who is the rapist.
Now that I've got that out of the way, I can tell you more about the book. As I said above this book was amazing! I picked it up because it reminded me of Patrick Rothfuss' Kingkiller series which I enjoyed. However, this book was so much better! I love the character of Jorg; he is so dark and dangerous! It just makes you think of him as a bad ass, but you know that if circumstances were different he wouldn't be that way. I also loved Lawrence's idea of basing the book in the future but making it seem like the past. And I thought the story behind the `Builders' was a nice touch and hope that he brings in more of their story in his later books.
As you can tell, I thought this book was great! I would suggest it to anyone who is a fan of fantasy novels like A Game of Thrones or The Name of the Wind. I can't wait to read the next book in the series King of Thorns!
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on 29 October 2014
The first book in the Broken Empire trilogy was ok and there are review after review of the pros and cons on Amazon so will not bore you with another. What I will do however is urge you not to be put off by the Prince of Thorns as the other two books are fantastic. Honestly, completely worth the slow start.