Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence was first published in 2011. It’s book one of The Broken Empire; I actually don’t know (yet) how long the series is. I would assume a trilogy, but then A Wheel of Time reminds me that some series can go on forever. I feel like there has been a pile of new fantasy novels/series that have been released in the last two or three years. I have been in the middle of The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss (2007) for about a year and a half. I’m also stalled out in Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson (2008). However, I did finish Peter V. Brett’s The Warded Man (2009) and I absolutely loved that one. The point is, I feel like I buy and am interested in reading a lot more fantasy novels than I actually sit down and read.
Part of the allure of this novel was that it was “short.” 319 pages is something a bit rare in the fantasy novel world. But look, it works; because I finished the thing in two weeks and am writing a review of it now! The cover helped, too, because this piece by Jason Chan looks interesting. It’s not too busy and it works well for the story.
From the back cover:
When he was nine, he watched as his mother and brother were killed before him. At thirteen, he led a band of bloodthirsty thugs. By fifteen, he intends to be king…
It’s time for Prince Honorous Jorg Ancrath to return to the castle he turned his back on, to take what’s rightfully his. Since the day he hung pinned on the thorns of a briar patch and watched Count Renar’s men slaughter his mother and young brother, Jorg has been driven to vent his rage. Life and death are no more than a game to him—and he has nothing left to lose. But treachery awaits him in his father’s castle. Treachery and dark magic.
The back cover blurb gives a sense of a young kid on a revenge mission. He seems ambitious and intense. Also, there is not a heavy emphasis on magic or the traditional fantasy elements. This sets the novel a bit apart from some of the more overtly magic-driven, demon-involved epic fantasy novels.
It’s told from the perspective of the main character, Jorg. We meet him on the road with his band of brigands and rabble as they are burning a village. And right away the reader discovers that this kid is mean as spit. I lost track of just how old he was, but from 12-15 years old, he really does wreck havoc on the land. Seems really unlikely, right? How does a young teenager garner the loyalty of thugs, soldiers, and criminals? How does he have such great strategy, luck, and skill? Well, he is definitely a unique character – even if these obvious questions run through the reader’s mind while going through the book. And the author gives us hints and options for how Jorg operates and why throughout. At the end the question is almost answered. It’s better to say that an answer is provided, but the answer is only a sufficient cause and not the sole cause.
The author writes very well. This is not high literary stuff, though. Direct sentences, never any purple prose, no overworking of anything. The writing style suits the ruthless and direct manner of the main character perfectly. However, it can be a turn off for any readers who enjoy descriptive paragraphs, developed settings, and poetic renderings. The writing style is crisp and clean and means business. There are plenty of killings and pillagings in the novel – and you read about them hard and fast just like they happen. Because I think the best part of the author’s main concept for the novel is the de-pretty-ifying of epic fantasy and medieval combat. (Crossbows are cool!) If you want to read about glorious battles and the conflicted hearts of heroes there are dozens of other novels that can provide that. Here, the author (by way of Jorg) keeps it real. Jorg does not mince words, he doesn’t second guess, and he does not fall prey to all of those annoying flaws in characters like: didn’t completely kill the bad guy or is indecisive and lost. Jorg handles his business – and it’s rarely pretty.
Although the impetus for the character is the deaths of his mother and brother followed by the cavalier attitude of his father (the king), the reader will not be swept up into any moping overemotive wallowing by Jorg. There’s no demand placed on the reader for sympathy/empathy. Simply, Jorg is a mean little snake and he is not asking for any pity or compassion – because he sure won’t show any, either. All of this is. . . . “refreshing” . . . in a fantasy novel. I suppose refreshing is a bit of an odd word choice to describe this ruthless little kid, but this novel is refreshing because it never ever gets bogged down in emotive turmoil and meandering indecisive characters. Jorg, for better or worse, makes things happen. He will always think it’s better to act than to do nothing – even if the act is extreme.
There is some language in the novel that some sensitive readers may not approve of. Not cussing or gory graphic words, but the characters are somewhat sacrilegious and blasphemous. Readers who dislike this should take note before buying, because I can see where some people would not like this aspect. But a cool thing about what the author is doing is that the world of Jorg is like ours – like an alternate reality. For example, there is The Church with a Pope (who is female). Jorg, as a youth, studied the philosophers (to include Plato, Plutarch, Russell, Nietzsche, etc.) And it’s really surprising and odd when you find that the author has worked in real elements of the real world into his fantasy novel. Especially for me, a philosopher, to read about a character who references philosophers. It’s cool and I am actually surprised at how well it works and that it has not been done more in other books. Thumbs up, Mark Lawrence! Overall, I can see this book being either two stars or four stars depending on your views toward the writing and the language. I am giving it four stars for uniqueness, surprising-ness, and brevity. Book two is available currently in hardback . . . .