Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Mark Lawrence's PRINCE OF THORNS

Admit it. You've always wished that George R.R. Martin was gutsy enough to let Joffrey Baratheon have the odd point of view chapter. So, apparently, did Mark Lawrence. And he did something about it.

Admit it. You loved Gene Wolfe's Book of the New Sun in all its occult glory, but wished it had a reliable narrator, and would give bonus points if said reliable narrator was a boy psychopath. So, apparently, did Mark Lawrence. And he did something about it.

And here's the kicker -- he did both of these things in the same damned book! And thus Prince of Thorns and its two Broken Empire sequels came to be. So we have an extremely post-post-apocalyptic setting, in which civilization has been bombed back to medieval France but there is so much bizarre and inexplicable leftover technology and other phenomena about that it's basically an epic fantasy setting chock full'o'magic... and we have a boy psychopath, a prince of the blood with a thirst for revenge and a giant cauterized wound where his conscience might be, leading us through it from his perspective.

This is not a pretty book, folks (especially not for someone coming off the ravishing loveliness of A Song for Arbonne), but damn, is it a compelling one.

It does perhaps require something in the order of a trigger warning, though. Our boy, who rejoices in the name of Prince Honorus Jorg Ancrath, is truly a wicked one. Though only 13 years old when we first meet him, he's already a murderer, a thug, a manipulator, and, yes, a rapist (though the rapes occur offscreen). The book itself starts off with rape and murder and violence, as such is Jorg's origin story; when he was nine, he, his mother the Queen, and his little brother were waylaid on their travels; mama was raped and murdered; little brother was mutilated and murdered; Jorg only survived because he got tangled up in the world's wickedest briars and was held helpless and out of sight by the thorns, hence the book's title. He has scars inside and out, yo.

To make matters worse, his father the king declines to take revenge on the attackers. It's politically inexpedient. You'll understand when you're older. Be a good boy and go page through your Plutarch and leaf through your Livy and don't leave too many stiffened socks for the servants to clean up.

Wrong answer, dad.

So by the time the lad is 13 (the nine/ten-year-old Jorge we meet in judicious flashbacks), he's left home and become the head of a band of ruthless bastards. And these aren't fun, funny bastards like Scott Lynch has made us love. These are evil, violent, bloodthirsty marauders who you will find yourself a little abashed to be rooting for (more or less).

Some readers have complained that it's impossible for a 13 year old boy to take control of such a band. I'll let his friend Sir Makin answer that, as he did when Jorg asked him what he meant when he said Jorg is good: "Playing a role. Filling in for lost years with that intuition of yours. Replacing  experience with genius."

And then there is the matter of some mages. Sneaky, powerful, subtle, nasty mages, who can manipulate other people like puppets. Arguments can be made that some of Jorg's precocity, and maybe some of his ferocity, aren't entirely his own.


Regardless of who the baddest guy really is, though, regardless of how nasty things get, because Lawrence has presented Jorg's point of view so convincingly, so clearly, so logically, the reader winds up in some way rooting for him. Even if we find him utterly irredeemable, we love watching him go.

Yeah, you'd better believe I'm going to read the rest of his saga. With frequent showering in between chapters, but I'm going to be reading it. Soon.

Maybe I'll intersperse it with Guy Gavriel Kay. You know, just so I don't wind up hating humanity altogether 8)

1 comment:

  1. Very nice review :-)
    But as much as the liked the "Prince" its the "King" that makes this trilogy one of the best fantasy out there.
    Go for it!


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