Thursday, July 4, 2013

Just in Awe of the Prince of Thorns (#bookreview)

Damn, but this was one hell of a book!

Opinions of the entire Broken Empire series seem to be strongly divided, with most readers falling into either the love it or loathe it camp, and very few counting themselves indifferent. I've seen reviews that bemoan the character of Jorg, asking how we can be expected to follow such a damaged protagonist, and others celebrating the daring chances Mark Lawrence has taken with the series.

Well, you can definitely count me in the love it camp, at least as far as Prince of Thorns is concerned. This is a book that struck me in much the same way as Steven Erikson's Gardens of the Moon or Michael Moorcock's Elric of Melnibon√© once did, just completely playing against all expectations of the genre, and surprising me with something original. Lawrence doesn't necessarily do anything new with the core motivations of vengeance and conquest, but he makes some interesting choices in terms of his protagonist/narrator, along with the supporting characters, that are really exciting.

This is fantasy that's dark and epic, following the bloody march towards destiny of a young man and the ragged band of mercenaries with whom he's surrounded himself. Jorg is a ruthless killer who has no problem playing dirty, and who doesn't give a damn how anybody else feels about him. He's not out to make friends or win followers, and certainly isn't worried about charming his way through the byzantine world of royal politics. Many readers have complained he isn't a likable hero, but you have to admire his tenacity, and you have to feel a bit of sympathy for his origins. Cheering him on is a guilty pleasure, but a pleasure nonetheless.

Getting back to that Erikson comparison, this is a book where nobody is safe. Lawrence kills off characters I was sure would be with us for a while, including one who I fully expected to remain at Jorg's side until the very end, and does so with unimaginable cruelty. Hearkening back to the Moorcock comparison, this is also a book where absolutely power is allowed to corrupt - and destroy - absolutely. To say that the climax of this first volume is explosive is a ridiculous understatement, but it's refreshing to come across an author who isn't afraid to make the big sacrifices.

Of course, I would be woefully remiss if I didn't mention one last comparison, and that is to Stephen King's Dark Tower opus. Lawrence has done a masterful job here of subtly setting his fantasy saga in a post-apocalyptic future that defines the story in some areas, but never overwhelms it. Early on, it's not even clear whether we're post-apocalyptic or alternate history, but once you start reading about the Builders, plasteek sheets, and the Day of a Thousand Suns, you begin piecing it all together. The climax beneath Castle Red is very evocative of King's confrontation of past demons, and strong enough to be worth mentioning in the same breath.

Bring on King of Thorns, because I need to know where Jorg goes from here.


Published April 12th 2012 by Harper Voyager
Paperback, 399 pages

5 comments:

  1. Hey Bob great thoughts on the book. I feel like I was in the indifferent camp with this one. I had heard a TON of praise for this series, and it seems like it has attracted a lot of readers who place Jorg in the same category as Kvothe, Locke Lamora, and the Bloody Nine. I felt like this book read like a comic book for me. I also didn't really buy into Jorg as being such a ruthless badass. There were certain scenes that just felt like cheesy one-liners. IDK, I don't mean to hate on Jorg, and to be fair I haven't read the second installment, but I just can't seem to wrap my head around this series. I was also a bit bothered by the "post apocalyptic" setting and the comparisons made to modern times. It seems like the "grimdark" scene has been a bit ruined for me since I read R. Scott Bakker. I can't seem to buy into these other darker characters after reading the Prince of Nothing series. Sadly they just don’t compare! I know I sound like a Bakker fanboy, but that’s just my thoughts!

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    1. Bakker has been on my TBR list for a while - may be time to move him up.

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  2. But your review was very different from what you say here, Cursed Armada:

    "As usual I’m late to the party that is Prince of Thorns, but now that I’ve read the bloody tale of Jorg I can honestly say that I’m a fan!

    After I heard that The Prince of Thorns was reminiscent of The Prince of Nothing I was immediately intrigued. Having finished Prince of Thorns I can report that the two stories are nothing alike, but Jorg’s tale was nonetheless extremely entertaining."

    http://www.cursedarmada.com/2013/02/prince-of-thorns.html

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    1. Hey Bryn I'm not sure what you're pointing out here. My personal "review" and my comment here on Bob's page might sound as if I've flip flopped, but I haven't. I meant what I wrote in my review, which is that Jorg's tale was very entertaining. I can still feel a bit indifferent about the series and still be a fan right? (Hope I don't sound like a dick here, I mean no offence)

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    2. If you say so. It sounds very odd to me. "I'm a fan and it was extremely entertaining." ...but I'm indifferent to it?

      You've added 'a bit' before 'indifferent' and changed 'extremely' to 'very' in order to try and reconcile those opposed statements, but it would just seem more reasonable to say that in the few weeks since reading it you changed your mind.

      No offense at all. I read your review recently, then this one, and was just surprised to see such a reversal of opinion. You're perfectly entitled to either point of view! I thought the book was out of the box amazing.

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