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.
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 20 July 2012
I bought this book not really expecting much, the reviews seemed good so I thought I'd give it a go. I do most of my reading on the commute back and forth to London. I picked it up on the way to work, and to be honest I was instantly captivated and don't really remember anything else happening in the days between the act of picking it up and finishing I didn't put it down. The only disapointment I found with Prince of Thorns was that it had to end. A truely great read for the fantastists among us. The best book I've read since Game of Thrones, Can't wait for the next in the next in the series!
on 30 July 2011
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.
on 21 November 2016
After reading reviews about the violence and gore in this book, I was expecting much worse. It's not that bad, the rape isn't graphic but tells you what type of characters they are.Violence, gore? There's much worse on the daily news.
The first half of the book is centred around building the character of Jorg. It becomes tedious after a while, every person he meets becomes part of his psychopathic, murderous visions. The other characters are always two dimensional, all the way through the book, they're never really built upon. The endless back and forth in time is a drag at first, but after a while it adds to the present time of the storyline. I almost stopped reading it after a few chapters, I was tired of the main character gloating and fantasising about killing, he's only a teenager.
After persevering and reaching halfway, the book gets more interesting.There's a few twists and turns that are hinted at through the book. The ending has a good build up ( most of the book actually ) and doesn't disappoint, looking forward to reading the next in the series.
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 27 August 2011
There has been much made of the fact that Prince of Thorns features a rapist as the main character, that it is far too dark and bloodthirsty, that it bears great similarity to Joe Abercrombie, that it objectifies women. I would dispute every one of these points. Every single one.
Prince of Thorns features a young boy as the protagonist, someone who offers his band of brothers "a different sort of treasure" to keep them sweet, someone who has raped women but only ever off screen. I've seen far, far worse occurrences of rape in novels - for heavens' sake, Steven Erikson has women raping the bodies of dead soldiers in Memories of Ice. Yes, there is rape - but nothing worse than presented in historical novels that I have read. When you have a marauding band of criminals, there will be raping and pillaging.
It is a dark and bloodthirsty novel, I would agree - but, once again, nothing that hasn't been done far worse before. It is grim at times for sure. However, I would argue that grimy fantasy is still flavour of the month, so Prince of Thorns should prove popular on this point.
Prince of Thorns bears very little similarity to Joe Abercrombie and absolutely none to George R R Martin - I'm surprised it was marketed in the slipstream of A Dance With Dragons. For me, Prince of Thorns shares more with Wolfsangel by M D Lachlan. It is basically the novel that Paul Hoffman of "The Left Hand of God" fame wishes that he had written. There are dreamlike sequences of necromancers (rather than witches, as with Wolfsangel), and there is a relativity with our world (as with The Left Hand of God).
And the woman thing. There ARE female characters in this novel. And they act independently of men. Men do not drive their story. In this respect, it was perfectly satisfactory. You cannot write a novel about a marauding band of brothers and try to include strong women who are the equal of the men; it doesn't fit the tone or the passage of the novel. I can't actually see why people have complained about this fact.
Now that I have refuted these claims, what did I think of the book? Prince of Thorns is readable, but, at the moment, not much more. I would be interested to read a sequel to see whether my personal issue can be addressed.
This issue is that I felt as though I was reading the outline of a novel. There were events in Prince of Thorns, but they felt slight and as though there should have been more involved. I was left dissatisfied by my reading experience because I felt as though Lawrence was fully capable of producing better, but hadn't fleshed out Prince of Thorns enough to achieve this.
With regards to the post-apocalyptic world - well, yay for not being yet another faux Medieval world. But DO MORE WITH IT! The world surrounding Jorg could have been interesting and unique. It could have been like nothing in any other fantasy world so far created. Instead, it felt stale and very, very underdeveloped.
Like I say, Prince of Thorns was readable. I liked certain characters very much, I enjoyed the structure and I would want to see more from Lawrence - but I do want to see a significant improvement on Prince of Thorns. A very tentative yes from me.
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 16 August 2014
Prince of Thorns has been one of my more recent reads from the fantasy genre. It was given to me as a gift from my older brother.
From the moment I started reading I was hooked. The story drew me in to a world I couldn't leave - a true reflection of fantastic writing. Despite the challenges faced by the characters and the 'darker' areas of the book, I felt a relation and deep connection to the characters, a connection that made the whole series become a favourite, leaving me feeling a little bit empty when I had finished!
I can't recommend Prince of Thorns enough - a very, very good read.
on 22 June 2014
I came to this book almost immediately after finishing Steven Erikson’s Malazan Book of the Fallen series. I tried not to draw comparisons in terms of technical accomplishment, because that would be unfair given the quality of Erikson’s work, but even sitting in all but the broadest field of fantasy fiction, Prince of Thorns is well below average.
The main issue this book suffers from is that it’s written in first person, and it really shouldn't be. This is not an easy choice of narrative and an author must be damn good to get it right; the reader must be able to constantly feel engaged directly with the character for it to work. Robin Hobb has demonstrated mastery of the first person narrative in fantasy, Mark Lawrence has not. This is primarily because the main character in Prince of Thorns is such a psychotically unhinged brat that it is absolutely impossible to relate to him on any level. In fact, you end up feeling so distant from the character that you care as much about him and his tale as he does about...well...anybody or anything. So I guess on some level it has worked, but why write narrative in the first person if it leads to readers not caring about the story!?
The other problem in first person is that it makes development of all other characters much more difficult. Here again, this fails almost entirely, with not a single other character coming across as anything more than a very basic ‘thug’ (this is most of the characters), ‘knight’, ‘sorcerer’ or ‘estranged father who is also king’.
It is very obvious the author is an academic, and though I commend the attempt to entwine some of his knowledge of technology into the history of his created world, as a consequence a large portion of the plot becomes very predictable. Not that the plot is particularly great as it is. Combining mostly standard fantasy tropes with one or two more unique ideas, the story seems to jump, stagger and lurch without any consistency. In short, it’s not a smooth ride, and frequently I would find the story moving on without resolving things, as if the ideas were written down but not followed through. I found the ‘past’ sections better than the ‘present’ ones, but in the end they kind of faded into nothing, as if they became too much hard work and the author just gave up.
On a final note, Lawrence was clearly a fan of the Song of Ice and Fire books when he wrote this. As such, using the phrase ‘game of thrones’ once, as a nod to GRR Martin perhaps, is fine. Using it multiple times is not, and in my eyes borders on plagiarism. And, perhaps taking more influence from Martin, Lawrence kills off many characters, but it’s done so wilfully and as you feel no connection with them or their relationships with each other, you don’t care at all about the deaths. Yes, this lack of empathy is exactly in line with the main character, but again we come back to the aforementioned problem of writing this in first person.
To sum up, I have read worse fantasy (and I have read a LOT of fantasy), but this sits close to the bottom. If this had been done in third person it would have made for a far better read. As it is, it often reads like a draft manuscript. I think Lawrence has the potential to become a fairly decent fantasy author, but for now, I’ve no desire at all to continue on with this series. Giving it two stars is being generous, but as I have read worse, and because there are some ideas here that have potential, I thought one star would be perhaps just a little too harsh.