“Prince of Thorns” Review

I don’t like Grimdark. I think I’ve made that clear here on my blog. So much of me clashes with much of Mark Lawrences work on each and every page. In fact, about halfway through book two of the Broken Empire trilogy (guess what gets reviewed next!), I’m growing a solid determination that my work sits as a response to works like these, that my world sits in contrast to these worlds.

Does that mean that I dislike Prince of Thorns?

Setting aside the Grimdark elements (of which there are many), I love the world built by Lawrence. I’m a sucker for worlds that remain after the end of the old ones, worlds where the people on them have to pull themseves out of the dirt to start again. I love to see ancient (modern, Sci-Fi) artifacts discovered by people who can no longer comprehend them. I love worlds that feel like they’ve been around for thousands of years.

Jorg is an awesome character. He starts out as the typical, mercenary, sociopathic protagonist of many works of Grimdark. “The world is dark, so I must be DARKER”, kind of thing. Which I usually find bland. But with a deft hand, Lawrence reveals Jorg to be an untrustworthy narrator, a lens showing a world that might not be so many shades dark as it seems. The author goes further, slowly stripping away the surface of the character to reveal a boy broken by his past, whether he wants to admit it to himself or not. Jorg becomes a character that, if you can’t quite root for (though that grows a bit easier nearing the end), you are certainly willing to follow to see what insanity he starts next. He never disappoints.

The rest of the characters range from one note to “who is that?” with few exceptions. Jorg’s “Brothers” are revealed more by short chapter headers (which seem to pop up inconsistently, to me) than they are by their behavior in the story itself. To be blunt, after getting to know most of them, I always get nervous whenever they have to briefly reenter civilization. Meanwhile. Jorg’s enemies are seen only through his eyes, and are therefore one-dimensional on the surface, but with hints of deeper currents underneath.

There has been some controversy about Mark Lawrence’s treatment of women in this series. To be honest…I see why. With few exceptions, women are either victims or objects of desire (or often, unfortunately, both) to the main character. And that’s when there is a woman at all. As in many Fantasy works, women are hardly mentioned even casually. It seems a world disproportionately populated by men. I would typically be outraged at this. However, the story is told from the perspective of a teenage sociopath, surrounded by men who openly consider themselves to be some of the most evil people in the known world. How much of this is the author and how much is the character is hard to divine, and the separation between the two must be taken into consideration.

The prose isn’t the absolutely, astoundingly beautiful thing that it was in Select Mode, but it has moments of that beauty, and it is never worse than good. Lawrence simply has a way with words.

The pacing is tight, fast, driving from point to point, with a few minor detours. It reads more like a Thriller; I was surprised more than once to find that I had devoured so much of the book in one sitting, and I consistently “one more chapter” read my way through it. Prince of Thorns feels very much like a lot of setup for events later in the series. But it also has many points that are hugely fulfilling in their own right, and I was always sure that when the payoff came, it would be good.

The ending felt just a bit weak to me, a bit paint-by-the-numbers, although that may be due to a single moment during the climax that pulled me out of the story. Even so, the ending was capably executed, and made me want to read more (I started the second within moments of finishing the first).

If you like Grimdark, you’ll probably love Mark Lawrence’s Prince of Thorns. If you can’t stand it, well, you might like the book anyway (though I make no promises you won’t feel dirty after you’re done).

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SPOILERS

Really, the horse kicked him? Are you kidding me? Why don’t we all have horses thrashing about whenever we need to get saved from evil wizards? Seems foolproof to me!

Not showing the battle between Jorg and Renar was ok. I’m not sure whether this choice is strange, or brilliant. Revenge isn’t the overall plot, afterall. It’s not what matters ultimately. It’s a stepping stone. But it still feels hollow to not see a direct confrontation between them. Maybe that’s the point.

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