Thursday, 15 December 2011

Prince of Thorns By Mark Lawrence || Book Review

"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. 

Prince of Thorns is the first volume in a powerful new epic fantasy trilogy, original, absorbing and challenging. Mark Lawrence’s debut novel tells a tale of blood and treachery, magic and brotherhood and paints a compelling and brutal, sometimes beautiful, picture of an exceptional boy on his journey toward manhood and the throne.

Introduction: Prince of Thorns is the first book in The Broken Empire series, it is a debut by British author Mark Lawrence. The book has been hailed as one of the finest debuts of this year. It is revenge driven epic fantasy, and has a rather brutal and gritty atmosphere.

Analysis:  Prince of thorns focuses on the central character Prince Honorous Jorg whose life has been shaped by the murder of his family and his need for vengeance. Jorg is the heir to one of a number of realms the rulers of which all have a claim to the title of Emperor of the Broken empire(since the series name The Broken Empire). The struggle between the numerous players for the title of Emperor forms the broader story arc.  Jorg will do whatever it takes to get this revenge, he will lie, cheat, steal, murder and betray anyone and everyone as long as it gets him closer to his goal. At barely ten years of age he intentionally falls in with a very nasty breed of criminals and so begins his long road to vengeance.  The writing in the first person POV of Jorg really brings out Jorg's character and the motivations behind his actions. Some people may find the brutality and viciousness of this character odd or unsettling for a kid of merely 10 years of age but I think the author does a very good job at the characterization.

“You soon learn there’s no elegance or dignity in death if you spend time in the castle kitchens. You learn how ugly it is, and how good it tastes.”
 For a person whose whole life revolves around the gruesome murder of his loved ones, his sociopathic and murderous qualities are perhaps justified. Also the author succeeds in making the reader question whether Jorg with his desire for murderous repayment for the death of his loved ones is truly the evil one or others who coldly trade away their deaths are more deserving of being called so.
“War, my friends, is a thing of beauty. Those as says otherwise are losing.”
 Jorg's companions are a particularly nasty outlaw group. I found myself especially enjoying the tid-bits the author added as introductions to a few of Jorg's roadside companions, these provided some added insights into the cuthroat nature of Jorgs companions and how the savageness required to survive, shaped Jorg's personality.

“Brother Roddat stabbed three men in the back for each one he faced. Roddat taught me all I know about running and about hiding. Cowards should be treated with respect. Cowards best know how to hurt. Corner one at your peril.”

“Every brotherhood has a pecking order. With brothers like mine you don’t want to be at the bottom of that order. You’re liable to get pecked to death. Brother Jobe had just the right mix of whipped cur and rabies to stay alive there.”

“Assassination is just murder with a touch more precision. Brother Sim is precise.”

The secondary characters do not receive too much character development aside from these occasional bits, and it really is a shame since a number of them are interesting, likable and badass. I was especially disappointed by the author’s treatment of the Nuban, the enigmatic tribal warrior could have been fleshed out and developed so much more. Makin, Jorg’s champion is arguably the only other character who received a bit of real attention so readers can have some understanding of his personality. But given the breakneck speed and continuous action one can really forget these lapses and enjoy the ride.

Prince of thorns covers a lot of events and places in a rather small page count. This does not allow the author to delve too deep into the world building. There are references that give us an indication of the rich history behind the world as it stands in the present, but overall it covers a rather small portion of the World, the author has created for this series. The world from what little has been revealed is post apocalyptic, it is a time when humanity is thrust back development wise after some major catastrophe ended a much superior and technologically advanced civilization. In the present the world could be described as medieval era with some structures and other remnants from the technological age. The appearance of references to Plato, Socrates, Nietzche, Sun tzu, Shakespeare, and even Jesus made for an interesting and original addition, since many fantasy novelists refrain from mentioning people an events from the real world.

Prince of thorns is not a very large book and what it lacks for in size it makes up for in pace, the pages whirl past while reading. The book is packed with action and suspense,the atmosphere created in the novel is suitably grim and for the first three quarters the novel was one of the most engaging I've ever read. The author writing in fluid and flowing prose takes the reader into the darkest recesses of the human mind which is a disturbing yet entertaining journey.  The sword and sorcery type action was vivid and non-stop, and the hero although a tad on the evil side was one I rooted for.

But I had a number of problems with the last quarter of the novel. Although these problems didn’t quite cripple my enjoyment of Prince of Thorns but did cut down on the immense potential and expectations I had developed for the book.  Firstly, the author seemed to be in a hurry to get to the finish line as if he was getting out of pages to write on. The last quarter could have achieved so much more and been so much more meaningful had it been fully developed and taken up the necessary space to achieve this. Second, his use of timely good-luck to bail Jorg out of impossible situations in quick succession really agitated me, since it made things appear contrived, contrary to how believable things were before. There really could have been so many other more entertaining/roundabout ways of dealing with those situations.

Conclusion: Even though there are number of flaws one can pick out from the last quarter of Prince of Thorns, the fact remains that it is a very enjoyable book and one of the year’s better debuts. The flaws felt more pronounced because of the immense expectations it developed earlier, this by itself is an indication of the author’s talent and potential for the future. It will certainly be interesting to see where Mr. Lawrence takes this series in future installments.

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