Review of Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence (some of the best high fantasy I’ve ever read)
A young prince, who fled his privileged life, returns to his kingdom after years away seeking revenge on the murderous count who robbed him of his mother and brother. Now he’s intent on reclaiming his throne. But the kingdom and life he knew have changed and he has a fight on his hands if he wants to win back his place as heir to the throne.
This book’s cast is made up almost entirely of bad guys (see villain gifs below). If you want to read about a protagonist who doesn’t kill people for looking at him the wrong way… buck up and read this anyway. Trust me. This is awesome fantasy writing.
Joe Abercrombie’s Shattered Sea trilogy (which will conclude with Half a War in July) makes pretty much all other fantasy, not just high and YA seem average. It’s hard to decide if that’s a good or a bad thing. Good because The Shattered Sea trilogy is awesome (read it if you haven’t), bad because everything else I read doesn’t seem as good. But Prince of Thorns managed to get very, very close to being as great as Abercrombie’s series.
My brief synopsis doesn’t do Prince of Thorns justice. It gives a decent idea of the plot, but it’s the characters that carry this novel. Despite the fact that almost—no every character is an a-hole (putting it mildly) the novel is carried by the characters. Jorg is only thirteen but he’s the biggest anti-hero I’ve ever read, and probably anyone has ever read. He’s not good, or just or moral—he’s exactly the opposite. And so is every other character in Prince of Thorns. Not that anyone could blame Jorg for being the SOB he is. He saw his mother and brother tortured and killed while he was tangled in a thorn bush that filled him with poison and almost killed him. There is rarely a page goes by without one character, or several, being in pain or getting killed or otherwise grievously injured. If you not a fan of violence, either buck up again, or skip this book.
It’s this childhood event that fuels Jorg’s story. He wants revenge on the man responsible. And along with a band of murderers, bandits, rapists and all-round low life’s, he leaves his home to seek revenge. His journey leads him home. And he wants his birth right back, his place as heir to the throne. But his estranged father sets him a seemingly impossible task—and it’s this that forms the basis of the rest of the story.
The plot is full of twists and moves at a cracking pace. Narrated by Jorg, there is never a dull moment and I can’t remember a single page where I was bored. There’s barely a moment to rest as Jorg moves from one fight to the next, from one danger to the next. And Mark Lawrence’s writing only makes the pace even swifter. Every line has been carefully crafted. Sometimes high fantasy can be plodding and packed with detailed description. But like Abercrombie, Lawrence knows what needs to make the final cut and what doesn’t. Jorg might be a douche, but there’s no denying his narration is sometimes laugh out loud funny and compelling. At times the writing could be described as stunning—and I don’t use that word lightly. Some of the description is vivid enough that you’re there in this fantasy world. And yet Lawrence never rambles. The style is sharp and witty and crafted. No excess. Nothing that isn’t needed.
The action comes thick and fast and in every chapter—more than several times in every chapter. Save an odd shift in genre/tone, when sci-fi elements bleed through, this is a perfect book. The sci-fi aspect will probably be expanded on, but it jarred after so long assuming this was a pure high fantasy novel. I’d also like to see some more world-building, but this is the first book in a trilogy and I’m guessing, hoping, we’ll see more of Jorg’s world in the two sequels.
Overall, this is hugely impressive fantasy. Not quite on a par with Abercrombie’s Shattered Sea trilogy, but it’d have to be damn good for that to be the case. But this is as good as YA high fantasy gets. Gritty, unrelenting, with a protagonist you’ll cheer on and hate in the space of a single sentence, Prince of Thorns is as close to perfect as a book gets.
Highly, highly recommended.