Review of “Prince of Thorns” by Mark Lawrence

Posted: November 22, 2012 in Reviews
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THERE ARE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW. JUST A FEW ABOUT THE WORLD THIS STORY IS SET IN.

For all the fantasy novels that are published each year, few actually reach the heights of fantasy greats such as George R.R Martin and Robin Hobb. But Mark Lawrence does just that, he has reminded us how good fantasy can be when its done really, really well. His protagonist is Prince Jorg, who at 10 years of age witnessed his mother and brother slaughtered on the orders of his father’s enemy, Count Revan. Jorg himself was severely wounded in the attack but as his physical injuries fade, his emotional trauma intensifies and he becomes filled with a white hot rage and develops an obsession to seek out the Count and avenge his loss. He turns away from childhood and becomes instead brutal, violent and cold. He shuns all goodness in the form of love, affection or forgiveness lest it make him weak and unable to cling onto the rage within him. He runs away from his father, King Olidon and spends the next 4 years roaming the land with a band of rogue criminals, looting, plundering and whoring. When he finally stumbles upon his father’s old priest, held captive, he frees him and decides to return home, hoping for recognition from the King. This is not what eventuates and along the way he finds himself attacking an impenetrable fortress, dallying with ghosts and monsters and seeking revenge once more from his mother’s murderer.

Many reviewers have described Jorg as evil, horrific, an anti-hero who despite his actions endears a certain amount of charm. I think this completely misses the point of the story. Jorg is neither evil nor an anti-hero. He is a complex character layered with all the emotions that make us human – grief, despair, pain, anger, pride and ultimately, love (for without it, how can there be grief?). The action in the story is no more terrible or violent than in any other fantasy novel – people do get murdered, blood is spilled, people are betrayed. But what we do get that very few other fantasy novels have is absolutely splendid writing, taut and beautiful and we get Jorg, with all his darkness and cunning. He is endearing because like his old tutor, we see him as the man he could be – smart, noble and great.

What we also get is imaginative world building, for the world that Jorg inhabits is a medieval world set 1000 years in our post apocalyptic future. It is a broken empire ruled by ambitious kings and inhabited by spirits and monsters with powers and the dead who come to life (zombies??). And underneath it all are the remnants from our own doomed era, secret hidden arsenals of nuclear weapons and treasure troves of our own forgotten world. It makes for an intriguing narrative linked together by the Shakespeare quoting Jorg with his Macbeth like tortured ambition and the raw naked grief of Hamlet.

What a gift this story is. I only hope that the rest of the story lives up to the brilliance of this first book.

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