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36 of 44 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Heart of Darkness beats inside the Prince of Thorns, 30 July 2011
This review is from: Prince of Thorns (The Broken Empire, Book 1) (Broken Empire 1) (Hardcover)
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One trend in the fantasy genre, which waxes and wanes through the years is the device of the cruel, murderous and/or insane protagonist. I don't mean protagonists who can be cruel, who have murdered and whose experiences have unhinged them (because you'd be hard-pushed to name a protagonist in fantasy who didn't boast one or all of those qualities). I refer to protagonists who maim, rape, torture and murder, because they're psychotic. This trend isn't one I'm particularly fond of, if only because it so often means sacrificing a depth of human feeling that is for me the epitome of the very best fantasy tales. But being that `Prince of Thorns' falls into this category and given its hype I decided to begin reading with as much of an open-mind as possible.

My impression of the first few chapters of the book was that the characters and settings were a little bit bland and two-dimensional. So I was disappointed not to be struck by the rich, complex and mesmerizing fantasy epic I'd been lead to believe lay in these pages. Despite this, in the beginning something keeps you turning each page and it isn't just the intelligence of the writing, it's the audacity of its anti-hero Prince Jorg, who is the most despicable protagonist since Thomas Covenant.

`Prince of Thorns' can't be described as high fantasy; there just isn't the depth to the characters or the world building. There are prolonged periods in the book of quite cliched battles and quests (of the tired 1980's swords & sorcery fantasy sort) that are entirely pedestrian, but these periods are punctuated by momentous scenes that offer pure enjoyment, and the capricious nature of the main character is usually the catalyst for these scenes. By the time the reader is half-way through the book it does become clear that there is something a little bit special about `Prince of Thorns', not necessarily in the plot, which concerns slaughter, scheming and a subtle sprinkling of magic (i.e. many of the ingredients you might expect of the genre), but more in the refreshing sense of unpredictability and the glorious insanity of the main protagonist.

Mark Lawrence does, in my opinion and on the evidence of this debut title, deserve much of the hype that's been piled onto this, his debut work, if only because he's the best new fantasy writer I've sampled in recent years. `Prince of Thorns' doesn't rival the work of his most popular contemporaries in the genre, for the reasons I've previously given, but he's constructed a good story here, one that may begin in a slightly two-dimensional fashion, but which gradually builds and remains entertaining to the final page.

I've only sampled a handful of debut fantasy tales in the last few years, because it's so very rare for the product to live up to the hype. `Prince of Thorns' is different- it's not world-class, but it's distinctive and well-constructed enough to be the foundation for a long and distinguished fantasy-fiction career for its author. While I haven't added Mark Lawrence to my mental list of fantasy authors whose newest publications I must never fail to purchase, I can say that I am going to be reading how ever many more installments there may be in this particular series.
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