Prince of Thorns
(The Broken Empire #1)
By: Mark Lawrence
First published in 2011
Book 2/10 of my 2014 High Fantasy Challenge
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. No matter how fierce his will, can one young man conquer enemies with power beyond his imagining?
Prince of Thorns is part of the grimdark fantasy subgenre that’s raised it’s head more in the 21st century. The genre is characterized by bleakness and violence, and often the main characters are either antiheroes or not heroes at all, but right bastards. This book is the first proper grimdark novel I’ve read, and the atmosphere definitely matches the genre title. The book also turned out not to exactly be high fantasy, but I’ll count it towards my challenge goal nevertheless.
I have to say that I wasn’t enamored. I was interested, but not invested – interested in what was going to happen and what the deal with Jorg was, but not invested in the characters or the world. I could easily put the book down for a couple of days. Everything and everyone was just so unpleasant that I felt no emotional connection with the story. I can see what Lawrence was going for – a sort of fantasy version of A Clockwork Orange, raising questions of morals with an immoral main character – but A Clockwork Orange handled the theme better. There were some clear parallels linking the two books, especially in their final chapters (quoted below).
Prince of Thorns:
“Then he goes back to his wooden soldier, making him march, running him here and there, charging at shadows. […] I was like [that] little wooden soldier, running in wild and meaningless circles. […] When enough days stand between you and the person you were, you’re strangers. Maybe that’s what being a grown up is.”
A Clockwork Orange:
“Youth must go, ah yes. But youth is only being… like one of these malenky toys you viddy being sold in the streets… made out of tin and with a spring inside and then a winding handle on the outside and you wind it up grrr grrr grrr and off it itties, like walking, O my brothers. But it itties in a straight line and bangs straight into things bang bang and it cannot help what it is doing. Being young is like being one of these malenky machines.”
Essentially, there were no characters except for Jorg, which was perhaps one of the main reasons I couldn’t really connect with the book. I mean, there was his band of brigands, but none of them were fleshed out enough to be regarded as solid characters by themselves, with Makin and the Nuban coming closest. No, the book was very strictly about Jorg, the main character with absolutely no moral compass. That, of course, made it hard to be interested in the book when it came to the characters.
Perhaps I was a bit hyped up as regards to the twists of this novel – mentions about “pieces beginning to fall into place” in reviews, but I didn’t really find the plot points very surprising. I mean, all of the clues were there quite clearly, from pretty early on. Perhaps I just had the wrong expectations. I have to say, though, that the plot was intriguing enough to keep me reading even while I wasn’t that interested in what happened to the characters. The theme and plot level was definitely stronger than the characterization.
Prince of Thorns was a bit disappointing continuation of my 2014 High Fantasy Challenge, especially after loving The Name of the Wind so much. Still, I might read the rest of the trilogy. Someone on GoodReads gave the first book two stars (with pretty much the same issues that I had), but gave the second book four stars. So, I’ll give the second book a chance, but I’m not in any hurry to do so. I give Prince of Thorns 2 out of 5 stars.
Next up in the challenge
I’ve already read The Last Wish by Andrzej Sapkowski, since it was May’s book of the month at the SciFi and Fantasy Book Club over at GoodReads. Review to follow soon.