Mark Lawrence is a new name in fantasy, yet his presence on the online scene and the amount of hype surrounding his debut, Prince of Thorns, would make you think otherwise. Even more so the quality of that first novel. An utterly ruthless read, in its relatively short length its ferocity will shock you, its characters will astound you and its tale will entrance you. Prince of Thorns is a vastly compelling, fast-pace read - once the end has come, Lawrence will leave you wishing for more.
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.
For this type of fantasy, Prince of Thorns is remarkably short, but this doesn’t stop it from being dense. Like the story he tells, Lawrence is merciless when it comes to pacing - this is a novel that moves fast - and prose - he simple elegance of the prose suits Jorg’s cold, calculating nature well. The first-person narration adds immediacy to the storytelling and allows for much insight into Jorg’s twisted mind. And what a captivating mind it is to observe.
Old and wise (if you can call it that) beyond his years, Jorg has a dark heart, a cunning mind, and a past troubled enough to haunt him which is justification enough - in his own mind - to support the enraged quest for power and, more importantly, revenge he has embarked on. Lawrence does a wonderful job of building depth into Jorg’s character. There’s a reason why he is so interesting to read about, and that is because his is presented as realistically complex. He is not just a vicious boy, but he also has his emotional turmoil, and despite seeing his decisions as being the result of unquestionable logic, we see him struggle with their consequences.
The vast landscape of the Broken Empire is only partially uncovered in this first tome, yet Lawrence is able to pack in enough detail to make it brutally appealing. The chaotic political scene of ‘the Hundred’ (kings, counts, barons, lords) all vying for the the throne of the long-shattered Empire is felt through the barbaric, unruly feeling the places we visit give off. Then there is the hints dropped by Lawrence that this may be a world more familiar than we think, just far in the future. Mentions are made of Persia, the Hindus, Plato, Aristotle and the Christian faith (which is still active). Whether this is our world reverted to the middle ages or not, it’ll be interesting to see how Lawrence continues to expand this particular landscape.
There is also a strong emotional element to Prince of Thorns. After all, Lawrence is able to make us keenly interested in a boy which, by all accounts, we would usually shun for his lack of recognizable morality. The natural human curiosity for that which is different from us without a doubt plays a part in keeping us bound to Jorg and his story, but credit must be given to Lawrence’s world and its characters for keeping us riveted throughout. Perhaps one of the most fearsome aspects of this novel, beyond the violence and callousness described within, is its capacity to make us readers invest in it emotionally.
Certainly, Mark Lawrence’s debut is an unforgiving, bloody piece of fiction - fantasy with one hell of an edge - and this may indeed cause issue with some readers. Prince of Thorns goes beyond even the grittiest of recently popular fantasies in its stark depiction of unabashed cruelties. If you can, however, get past it you will discover one of the most thoroughly entertaining novels of the year. Don’t be one to miss Lawrence’s spectacular entrance onto the genre scene. Let’s hope the next tome in his ‘Broken Empire’ series is not too long in coming! Prince of Thorns will be published August 4th by Voyager in the UK and August 2nd by Ace in the US.
My Rating: 5 out of 5
Reading Age: 15 and up
Mark Lawrence's Website: http://www.princeofthorns.com/
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