Thursday, February 2, 2012

A Thorny Situtation

I picked up Mark Lawrence's Prince of Thorns on a whim.  It looked and sounded interesting (I mean, look at that cape),  but I was also a little afraid it could turn out to be really, really bad.  With a character as young as Jorg who is hell-bent on violent revenge, the plot could have come off as hackneyed and ridiculous (the lead character's snort-worthy name didn't help, either).  Fortunately, Lawrence is an exceptionally good writer, and he achieves an interesting combination of action and intellect that will keep readers turning pages.

The Basics
Lawrence, Mark. Prince of Thorns. New York: Ace Books, 2011. Print.

Mark Lawrence makes his authorial debut with the novel Prince of Thorns, and it's quite a hardcore start, I must say.  According to my in-depth research (also known as reading the back jacket), Lawrence is a research scientist in the field of artificial intelligence, is married, has four children, and resides in Bristol. Somewhere in amongst all that he found time to write the story of Prince Honorous Jorg Ancrath, and let's be glad he did.

The first novel in a planned trilogy, Prince of Thorns features a spiffy jacket and an even spiffier plot line. Having watched his mother and brother be brutally murdered, young Jorg wants revenge and sets out to get it. He joins and eventually leads a band of bloodthirsty "brothers."  As the story opens he returns to his homeland and his father's court, where he finds more violence and treachery (cause there's no place like home).

The Book
I was initially put off by the first chapter or so of the book.  Lawrence goes for the gut (literally) with his opening, and I was worried that I'd find the book unreadable.  It opens with the razing of an entire village in a scene filled with violence and gore led by Jorg and his fellow thugs.  Jorg is not just an anti-hero, he's downright evil, and at first I found him completely unlikable.  But as you read, you soon realize that Jorg is a product of his world.  Violence is the norm in this war-torn world, as the nobles of each country and province wage war on each other for the right to rule as emperor.  Jorg is ultimately no worse than any of the other leaders in the world.  In fact, he's better because he's something of a military genius and he refuses to tolerate others leading him along for their purposes.  That's a whole lot more than can be said for any other leaders in the book.  It helps, also, that Lawrence is not overly graphic with the violence.  It's there, but he nicely balances what reader's witness with what they're simply informed of.

I also liked Lawrence's use of flashback throughout the novel.  Some might find it jarring, since the story frequently and quickly switches between the Jorg of the present and the 10 year old Jorg of 4 years earlier.  However, I like that it provides the present story line at almost the same time as is provides relevant back story.  The shift is always connected to the current development, and any remaining lack of flow in the narrative suits the jarring nature of the violence and depravity ongoing in the novel.

Another potential complaint might be the lack of character development.  Jorg is really the only character with any visible depth to him.  All the others are either shrouded in mystery for plot purposes, like the villainous sorcerers, or simply one-note characters, like Jorg's "Brothers."  This bugged me at first, but then I realized that it made sense. The story is told through Jorg's point of view, and he's practically a sociopath.  He cares very little for the inner workings of his cohorts, so it makes sense that we see them only through their actions and the parts they play in Jorg's battles.  We see the beginnings of development and deeper character in those people that Jorg takes further interest in (that he cares about, even as he tries to stamp it out), like the Nuban or Makin, in whom we find some actual personality traits and quirks.

I especially enjoyed the conclusion of this novel, since the last quarter started off with a twist that I didn't see coming.  I love it when books surprise me.  We also start to get a glimpse at some of the more subtle plot threads that work in the background and the manipulation of those eligible to hold the throne of the empire.  These promise a more complicated plot in the novels to come. Also, Jorg's discovery of these inner workings allows him to focus his violence and anger with greater purpose than he began the novel with.  I liked seeing Jorg's growth over the course of the novel and the promise of further growth to come. I'm sure he'll continue to be violent and kill without conscience, but I also think he'll have better developed reasons for his actions.

Lastly, I got a little thrill as I began to recognize the setting of the novel, which I won't ruin for you by being overly descriptive.  I started the novel with a sense of misgiving and a strong suspicion that I'd find it pointlessly violent and unenjoyable.  Instead, I got an unexpectedly excellent read in the form of dark coming of age story that left me eagerly anticipating the sequels.


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  1. Hi, just wanted to say that I love your blog. I just got introduced to it via a tweet by Mark Lawrence. Looks like he'll be cooking along each week, too. :) If you're a fantasy nerd like I am, you can follow my blog at

    1. Ack! *collapses* Okay, now that I'm done having nerd-vapors over an author tweeting my blog, thank you so much for letting me know. Also, thank you even more for reading! I certainly hope you continue to like what you see. Incidentally, I do frequently take recipe requests/recommendations, including "topical recipes" (which really are some of the best kind). I'll be moseying on over to your blog shortly, sir.


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