When I don’t like a book, I usually don’t feel too bad about giving away spoilers… After all, I don’t want the author to feel encouraged by sales to write other terrible books. When I do like it, however, as is the case with Mark Lawrence’s Prince of Thorns, I feel differently. You can count on this review to be generally spoiler-free, although my understanding of a spoiler may be different from yours.
On the book itself. At first glance, Prince of Thorns is kind of a lightweight, and much shorter than my usual, preferred fare. Weighing in at only 318 pages in paperback, Mark Lawrence manages to make each of those count to achieve his goal.
The book is published by Ace Books (Berkley Publishing Group), the copy I have is in paperback and was published in August, 2012. I purchased it at my local Indigo store for the price of $8.99, Canadian dollars.
The genre of the book is a different take on the high-fantasy, medieval-like setting common in so many fantasy books. While it clearly aims to be medieval, it is violent and cruel and an almost cartoon-ish way, unlike George RR Martin’s realistic, gritty feel. This is by no way negative, but rather a statement of fact. I found it refreshing and fun to read.
Geographically speaking, the map seems to suggest northern Europe as the setting, specifically northern France, and while the names of the countries and cities seem to match – Normardy, Conaught, Orlanth, Limoges and Lions, there are no references in the book itself about these places being anything other than figments of the author’s imagination. The ‘world’ itself is simply referred to as ‘The Broken Empire‘, a political entity that is discussed and explained in the book.
The hero of the story is the young Prince Honorous Jorg Ancrath, who witnessed his mother and brother’s horrible and protracted murders at age 9. He then ran away from his royal household to join with a bunch of thieves and murderers, who he eventually came to lead. He returns to confront his past and claim his heritage, although he clearly won’t be satisfied with simply lead
Without giving away too much – as promised – this is a classic tale of betrayal and revenge, on every level, with a strange new twist. It is suggested that Prince Jorg himself is extremely cruel and violent, but he mostly engages in traditional fighting in the book’s pages. Most of the extreme cruelty and sadism is performed by various members of his ‘Band of Road Brothers’, although there are some notable exceptions.
*** SOME SPOILERS ***
The story itself, a tale of revenge, is quite gripping; reading this short book took me no more than a few days, which is remarkable considering my schedule. One of the things that has bothered me somewhat is the author’s tendency to almost break the fourth wall by referring to things that we as readers understand but are completely alien to the protagonist, such as skyscrapers, concrete, rebar, modern vaults and other assorted modern technology.
This is extremely well done and gives the book a familiar footing, while simultaneously feeling completely alien. In one instance, it is clear that the band is travelling through an underground parking structure, but seen through their eyes, it is strange, mysterious and utterly terrifying.
Another thing that has clearly survived is the Catholic Church, with priests, clerics and bishops, that now live in a world where magic, ill-defined though it is, exists, and where the importance of redeeming one’s soul has not diminished. Interestingly enough, the hero is offered the chance to redeem himself, but doesn’t seem interested.
The Broken Empire is built on and off the bones of our own world, both figuratively and literally, and offers a interesting twist on a story that’d been done over and over. I have very much enjoyed Prince of Thorns, and look forward to reading the next two installments of The Broken Empire trilogy.