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 22 May 2015
So we all know GoT made bad guys cool again and this takes it to an extreme and though it doesn't have the substance of that (let's face it , what does...) it does have some nice touches. The futuristic setting is an interesting twist, the inner monologue of the central character is good for development and even dare i say it, sympathy. But ultimately it's a one trick pony. Yes, he's a bad guy, yes he's on a mission but other than that it's full of holes, convenient plot jumps and other lazy devices just to ram these 2 things down your throat. Not a bad book, just not as good as you think, if you actually think about it.
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 16 September 2015
I saw lots of 5 star reviews and was looking for something to get into, so I bought this for my Kindle.
In short, its pretty awful. Why? well, the main "hero" is a boy of 14-15 years old. The things he says and does do not relate to a person of that age, and how he leads a band of road warriors is never really fully explained. He is basically a spoilt brat kid with a sword, yet give hardened warriors, Knights etc orders and they just follow them or die.
He also manages to overcome every situation easily even when they seem impossible. He is like a spoilt brat version of Superman.
The first person style of writing can work well, it does not work well here as you basically get no real idea of the people around the main character. They are never really explored or developed. This is also true of the surroundings, you never get a proper feel for what the landscape looks like. Because of this the book never engaged me or kept me interested and I ended up skim reading the last few chapters out of pure boredom.
I would not recommend it.
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 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 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 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 18 September 2015
I nearly didn't buy this book because so many reviews went on about how terrible a person Jorg is, not your usual hero that wants to do good. But I trust some of the reviewers and so took a punt. Well I am very glad I did. No Jorg isn't a dashing hero, but then Ninefingers or Glokta aren't, nor is Tyrion for that matter, doesn't stop them being great characters that keep you truly hooked. Also how is a nine year old prince raised in a world of fighting with a cold brutal father supposed to behave when his mother and younger brother are raped and killed in front of him? Jorg is very very clever, very proud, apt to do exactly the opposite of what he is told to do and far older than his years. He seeks vengeance, this is not forthcoming from his father so he seeks a new family of Brothers to meet his needs.The pace is great, I actually like the flashback chapters, they are not so many as to be intrusive but help build up the full picture. The writing is witty and Jorg engages you. Yes he does very bad things and one truly atrocious act but I'm still rooting for Jorg all the way over the opposition. It helped that I have read the Red Queen's War books 1 and 2 so I was familiar with Mark Lawrence's style (both those books I highly recommend too, reviews to be done next) Jorg makes a very brief appearance in them and I enjoyed seeing his side of those moments. I am also intrigued to see where both stories end. If you like your fantasy mixed up a bit (I'm thinking like Joe Abercrombie and Scott Lynch) then give it a go.