Prince of Thorns: a book review

I just finished reading the manuscript of a debut novel by Mark Lawrence.

Prince of Thorns
The Broken Empire Book One
by Mark Lawrence

From Mark’s website:

“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. The thorns taught him a lesson in blood…

The 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.

Due in August 2011 from
Harper Collins/Voyager – UK/Australia/New Zealand
Penguin/Ace – US

I first heard about this title back in late September and have been sweating to get my hands on it ever since!

When I first got the manuscript I was dismayed – it is written in first person. I don’t know why I dislike first person, and I don’t even know why I still feel I don’t like t when all the books I’ve read that have used it have been fine and enjoyable novels. But that is how I felt.

The second feeling that came over me reading the first chapter was hesitation.

This is Dark fantasy. Dark Fantasy.

The Prince of Thorns is an apt title for young Jorg – as a character he is not heroic at all. He is twisted and violent, calculating and merciless. Yet I couldn’t stop reading – regardless how many times Lawrence’s brilliant descriptions made me wince and clasp my hand to my mouth in disbelief. It was freaking awesome!

Lawrence has a very vivid style of writing. It is smooth and compelling and you literally see red on the pages as they become covered with blood from sudden and unexpected episodes of violence. It is gritty and full of wonder. Philosophy walks side-by-side with most base of human emotions, the courtly scent of rose and orange oil mingles with the repugnant odor of unwashed humanity and Machiavellian intrigue gets cut down by daggers punched through throats.

This book is brilliant – it is not at all the type of thing I would normally read (being a fan of the big fat fantasy saga’s of heroes and lots of magic) but it’s thorns hooked me well and good. I was pissy at the start thinking this was just a thinly veiled excuse for a reworking of medieval history but it is in fact set in a post apocalyptic earth and it is very cool to see Nietzscheanism referenced in the same pages that speak of Plato and Sun Tzu.

There are fantasy aspects to it as well as science – references to the Builders who crafted buildings from stone that was crushed and flowed like water around steel bones (nice!) – but it is subtle, more in the vein of Martin than Jordan. And for those of you who would like comparisons I would have to say Lawrence’ style runs to Joe Abercrombie, mixed with Steven Erikson by way of Tim Lebbon and a fascination with Vlad the Impaler. And much shorter in length than a typical Erikson or Abercrombie book.

Like I said, this book is not me at all – and possibly not you if you are squeamish – but it is very exciting, superbly crafted and the start of something fresh and original. And given how long I have to wait until book one is published next August – a lifetime until I can get my hands on book two! (I jest – but I really want the next book now!)

Seriously – buy this book! (US edition here)

Something to Sink Your Teeth Into

The Sun Sword Sequence
by Michelle West

1 The Broken Sword
2 The Uncrowned King
3 The Shining Court
4 The Sea of Sorrows
5 The Riven Shield
6 The Sun Sword
The Sun Sword books tell a complex and detailed story spanning the breadth of the Domain of Annagar in the south – a land of desert and tradition, harsh sun and rigid social courtesies that form a deadly dance of protocol in which the slightest misstep can cause the downfall of a Clan; and the Empire of Essalieyan to the North – a sprawling land of culture and civilisation, commerce and trade in which the Ten Major Houses wield authority second only to the god-born Kings who rule them.
It is a tale of epic narrative and detailed plotting set in a world of rich, vibrant and diverse cultural identities. It is the story of the daughter of a God who refuses to be a pawn in his plans, it is the tale of a woman who shows the world a face of acceptance, but works in secret to change the conventions that make her a slave. It is the story of a Prince who must fight immortal foes to lay claim to the crown that has been denied him and the tale of a young woman whose gift of Sight takes her from city slums to glittering palaces and a position of power that she never dreamed of. Magi battle magi and demi-gods plot for power, warriors fight flesh and blood and the dark sorceries of forgotten legends.
This series is a huge undertaking with a massive cast of characters whose complexity brings to mind the work of Steven Erickson, but is as different to Erickson as he is to Martin. And where readers are willing to forgive both these authors the crime of writing ‘fat’ fantasy I urge you to do the same for West’s work. She is a magical writer of rich and compelling prose and works brilliantly at revealing the history of the world she writes in through character experience, rather than large chunks of ‘info-dump’. This is epic fantasy at its best in which histories and customs collide and not all is as it seems in a world where expectations are confounded and transformation of both events and characters is a delight in a plot of twists and turns.
West writes with insight, thoughtfulness and guts, much in the tradition of Guy Gavriel Kay, Janny Wurts, Tad Williams and Jennifer Roberson and is one of the best fantasy writers I’ve read. And if you do like what you read, check out her work as Michelle Sagara, it’s a lighter read but just as good.