Prince of Thorns is the debut novel of Mark Lawrence. The author's project is a trilogy named The Broken Empire. The book was released at the beginning of August and the follow-up will be called King 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. From being 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 has the ability to master the living and the 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.
Prince of Thorns is a first person perspective novel with a protagonist quite unusual, the young prince being genuinely sick in his mind and being clearly aware of it. You may have read Best Served Cold by Joe Abercrombie and if it's the case, you are accustomed (or at least you experienced it) to a main character smashing his way through the country in a quest for vengeance, or plainly said, lethal retribution. In Prince Honorous Jorg Ancrath's case, it's not simply brutal justice that is the source of his disturbed and disoriented vendetta, but mixed up within the drama, is the goal to become King in his own right or even Emperor (I think I guessed the title of book 3), at any human cost.
The boy genius is thirteen, skilled in many ways through experience on the road with his band of brothers or even from some kind of unknown source. This type of 'hero' would be hard to follow or feel empathy for but with a harsh cruel past behind him already, his actions seem more legitimate even though they cannot be condoned It's undoubtedly interesting to read about a protagonist like that, going on that road with a twisted perspective; it doesn't come to life very often. However, I have to admit it can be perturbing.
So, Brother Jorg is unforgiving. That statement alone couldn't be representative enough without some context. I know you probably have already read about a villain in a story who decides to talk about his schemes to his victim before killing him. Jorg Ancrath is the complete opposite. The young ruthless and impulsive mercenary reacts, act and think after. To his credit, it's what keeps him alive and gives him an edge from more typical characters. He even manages to generate sympathy toward the protagonist 'friends' or should I say 'brothers'. That feat has to be credited to the author's writing.
The narrative Mark composed for his book is furious, sometimes frenetic, sometimes resolute. The action is fast and constant, without having a break-neck pace but with a satisfying dose of flashbacks to explain the coming of this harbinger of death seeking power. The plot is moving at a stupendously perfect rhythm, without being too descriptive and skipping the going from point A to point B when it's not essential, this being actually an achievement since it could be seen as carelessness toward the 'complete' telling of the story to the reader but it's not. Jorg being the way he is, he deserves a writer who can get into the action and synthesize.
An example you ask?
“So . . .” I looked around them, real slow-like. “So, the Baron knows where bandits such as ourselves will be going, and he knows the way we’ve got to go.” I let that sink in. “And I just lit a bloody big fire that tells him and his what a bad idea it’d be to follow.”
I stuck Gemt with my knife then. I didn’t need to, but I wanted it. He danced pretty enough too, bubble bubble on his blood, and fell off his horse. His red face went pale quick enough.
“Maical,” I said. “Take his head.”
And he did.
Gemt just chose a bad moment.
The world building and history of the society depicted in the novel was a kind of mystery to me. After a few paragraphs I stumbled into the word 'Jesu' and several chapters after 'Plato' and 'Roma'... I was dumbfounded. My question were answered soon enough as Mark's world is a deviation or an extrapolation from a nuclear crushed version of our world. That aspect is skillfully used in the book with some funny discoveries of ancient technology and a couple of plot twist-bending elements. There's magic too.
The 'epigraphs' at the end of each chapter with insights on the brothers of Jorg's company are also a nice touch. To resume or illustrate by opinion, if I would have to make a quote for the book, it would probably read like this : "Prince of Thorns will blow your eyes out of your socket. This is not a tale for the soft of heart. The hero is the villain everyone with a dedicated vengeance in mind wants to be.".
Technically, the Ace cover is cool looking, maybe too much 'fantasy-hooded-like' but nice anyway. However I would have preferred a more gory cover art. A good looking map of the world is present in the book and here. The hardcover edition of the book stands at 336 pages.
Prince of Thorns review score :
Characterization............. 8.5 /10
World building............... 8.5 / 10
Magic system................. 7.5 / 10
Story.............................. 8.5 / 10
Writing........................... 9 / 10
Overall (not an average) 8.5 / 10
Mark Lawrence page