Mark Lawrence – Prince of Thorns

“Before the thorns taught me their sharp lessons and bled weakness from me I had but one brother, and I loved him well. But those days are gone and what is left of them lies in my mother’s tomb. Now I have many brothers, quick with knife and sword, and as evil as you please. We ride this broken empire and loot its corpse. They say these are violent times, the end of days when the dead roam and monsters haunt the night. All that’s true enough, but there’s something worse out there, in the dark. Much worse.”

Once a privileged royal child, raised by a loving mother, Jorg Ancrath has become the Prince of Thorns, a charming, immoral boy leading a grim band of outlaws in a series of raids and atrocities. The world is in chaos: violence is rife, nightmares everywhere. Jorg’s bleak past has set him beyond fear of any man, living or dead, but there is still one thing that puts a chill in him. Returning to his father’s castle Jorg must confront horrors from his childhood and carve himself a future with all hands turned against him.

Mark Lawrence’s Prince of Thorns is Harper Voyager’s bid for the debut of 2011. As such it is receiving a huge publicity push. Very often this kind of publisher hype makes me rather wary and because of thisĀ Prince of Thorns had a bit of an uphill battle to win me over. But win me over it did. I don’t know whether this will be my pick for debut of the year, but I do know it is a strong contender. What a whopping black-hearted scoundrel this prince is! I liked the book and its protagonist very much, but I can see why people who aren’t that into the whole grey area/gritty take on fantasy might not care for it at all. It is unremittingly grey shading to black. All of the protagonists are scoundrels of the blackest kind and none of its characters are safe up to and including Jorg himself. It’s a love it or hate it book in many ways and while many bloggers really liked it, others didn’t. Obviously, I did enjoy it a lot.

The only reason that Jorg and his band don’t completely cross over into despicable and unlikeable, is Lawrence’s very strong characterisation of Jorg and many of his Brothers, especially The Nuban and Makin. This is mostly achieved through flipping back and forth between the novel’s present time and four years earlier, so we can follow both the ruthless, murderous youth Jorg has become and witness how he got there. In the glimpses of the young Jorg we see what he could have been and we see how he has fought to banish any humanity and softness from his heart. But during the novel, at key moments, we do witness kinks in Jorg’s emotional armour. He might be an unrepentant blackguard, but he is still human. This humanity is enforced by his most important Brothers, The Nuban and Makin, who are creatures of rare honour and loyalty in a group of men who would as soon kill Jorg, as follow him. While we get a pretty good idea how and why Jorg and The Nuban meet and team up, Makin’s story and motivations are far more numinous and hopefully they’ll be further explored in the next book.

The weak point in Jorg’s characterisation, in my opinion, is the way he seems older than his years; to say he is precocious is to say the least. Though this might be explained, in part, by a plot twist I won’t go into for fear of spoilers, it did serve to make me get thrown off balance whenever we are reminded of his actual age. He doesn’t sound like a fifteen-year-old except for one or two scenes, most notably the scene with Princess Katherine in the kitchen. In Prince of Thorns we see Jorg’s character grow from a loving little boy to a murderous and callous youth. I wonder whether we’ll see a movement in the reverse in any of the following two books.

Lawrence’s worldbuilding is interesting. The novel is set on a post-apocalyptic Earth far into the future, but with clear reminders of Earth as we know it, such as the Tall Castle and the Red Castle and Jorg’s being taught the ancient philosophers, such as Plutarch, Euclid, Plato and Sun Tzu. While it confused me at first, until I figured out this was a future Earth, I like that nothing is really explained about how we got here, what happened to change the Earth like this, it is only hinted at. It is very much a case of show, don’t tell and I’m hoping to be shown more eventually.

Though flawed in places – sometimes speech patterns seemed too ‘modern’ and Jorg’s precociousness as mentioned above – this is one hell of a debut. I really enjoyed it immensely, having read it in two days during tube travel and when just sitting down for a bit in parks here and there in London. The book is very readable in bits and pieces, easy to pick up and continue, though, especially towards the end, harder to put down. This is helped by the fact that the two timelines, present day and four years earlier, are printed in different fonts, thus making it obvious at first glance in which time you are in the book. As noted above, there is still enough of this story and this world to explore and Jorg sets himself a definite goal at the end of the story, but the book can definitely be read as a standalone. Prince of Thorns might not be for everyone, but I certainly want to be there to see where Jorg will be by the end of the next book in the The Broken Empire trilogy. Mark Lawrence’s debut novel Prince of Thorns will be published August 4th by Harper Voyager.

This book was sent to me for review by the publisher.

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  • SQT

    I kind of feel bad about knocking “Prince of Thorns.” It was one of those gut reactions that I decided to go with and write about. I have briefly conversed with Mark Lawrence online and he's a very gracious guy who respects different opinions. I hope the book does very well.

  • I did see your point though. In fact I'm just starting Erikson's House of Chains and in the first chapter there are some pretty awful scenes where the protagonists rape the women of a village they conquered and in this case it did absolutely make me angry. I don't know why it didn't in a Prince of Thorns though. And I can absolutely understand why people might not care for the book. And yes, Mark is a lovely guy!

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