Sunday, June 30, 2013

Book review: "Prince of Thorns" by Mark Lawrence

I have noticed "Prince of Thorns" by Mark Lawrence immediately after it came out, even though I don't remember how (I think of, and it's been sitting in my Amazon wish-list ever since. My initial enthusiasms dropped after reading few reviews describing it as grimdark and unnecessary gritty. But last Sunday I decided to give it a try - and finished it at Monday's morning...

"Prince of Thorns" is told from first point of view and narrated by Honorous Jorg Ancrath. When the story starts, he is fourteen years old and a leader of brutal and violent bunch of bandits called the Brotherhood. Killing a brother for challenging him as leader is a normal occurrence. Attacking villages, burning people and raping their women is what the Brotherhood do - and Jorg is a scariest of them. But Jorg is a more than a simple bandit: Prince Jorg, the only heir of kingdom of Ancrath. Jorg was always a precocious child and had the best of tutors. But when he was 10 years old, his beloved younger brother and mother will brutally killed in front of his eyes. Thrown in the bush of briars, he accidentally survives, but something has snapped in his mind... After his father the King decides not to seek vengeance against Count Renar and accepting some material amends, Jorg escapes from home in seek of revenge, but as the book progresses, it will turns out that there are more complex game being played around...

First, if you want to enjoy this book, you just have to accept that Jorg is fourteen and leader of bandit gang. We could now discuss psychological and physical problems of a teenager leading bunch of big old men, but this is out of the point - it is fantasy after all. If you can accept it, you are ready for one hell of a ride.

This book is really grimdark - very brutal and graphically violent. Killing and burning people, raping and visiting whorehouses, unstable relationships in families - you have it all. But after you finish the book, you can notice that most (but not all) of this brutal stuff is in first part of book. Like Lawrence wanted to make a state about this being a gritty book and wished to make an impact. He succeeds in both point very well, and I noticed that "Prince of Thorns" is very successful book, so you can presume that people very hungry for it. Hype for "Game of Thrones" and ASoIaF proves it, as it does the success of Joe Abercrombie's "First Law" series and its sequels, and Richard Morgan's "A Land fit for Heroes" series.

This is not just the story of revenge. It first starts as it, but as it goes on, you will notice that Jorg has other goals of just revenging himself against Count Renar. He wants to prove himself to his father (who is maybe even bigger psychopath than Jorg, in class of Tywin Lannister), but more than that he wants to "win the game" and become the Emperor (we will get back to it later). But he is not the only with a larger agenda, especially when you meet Sageous. The story in general becomes much wider after they return to the Tall Castle. Another interesting thing is the parallel story of four years ago, that explains what happened after Jorg's brother and mother were killed, how he escaped and how he met the band. It also gives more background and explains how Jorg became the man (he is definitely no child anymore) he is.

The characters are also very deep. Since it is told from first POV, you get to know Jorg the best. He is just a crazy and violent psychopath at first, but you will soon see that there is more to him... You know that typical young fantasy hero, who is strong and tall good with sword, has natural affinity to magic, and it is also intelligent, outspoken and charming? Well, Jorg is exactly like that, only he is the anti-hero, using all this traits for getting his goals through, never mind who gets killed or injured along the way. He is terrible, but you have to root for him on account of his gutsiness and "never bend" attitude. Nevertheless, Lawrence is smart enough writer and makes him have some weaknesses, not to make him irritating. It reminds me much on Richard Morgan, whose Ringil is also so confident, but you see him afraid and insecure sometimes. Other characters are interesting and have several shades to them, but Jorg is the star of the book. I liked the short descriptions of Brothers before chapters - they were quite funny (in gristly sort of way). There was also a touch of Black Company camaraderie and Croaker's humor in Jorg's descriptions of his fellows.

Another surprise is the setting. In the beginning, Ancrath is just a typical medieval kingdom, and so it the world. Sure, there are some ghosts and some, let's say magicians, but this is typical fantasy at first. But as the book advances, you realize that this is actually a post-apocalyptic world!! The story takes place in Europe, castles are actually skyscrapers, and some of the magic is actually technology. I liked this turn of events very much. There is some really magic here also, but it fits very well.

Lawrence writing was very easy to read, without being too simple, and the book has very fast pace. Unfortunately, it is quite short - only 350 pages. But, at least is very intense read. Another small objection I have is that Jorg is sometimes just too lucky, even for a fantasy-story protagonist.

So, it can definitely be said that "Prince of Thorns" is not just a "gritty-book". It starts very violently and simply, but it expands in every way: story, characters, setting. For fans of Martin, Abercrombie and Richard Morgan...

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