Saturday, October 15, 2011
Review: Prince of Thorns, by Mark Lawrence
I came to this book via a rather controversial review on Tor.com. (Although you should note the review has some stuff in it that I think is a little spoilerish). This is another example of how a negative review can influence someone to seek out a book just as much as a positive one. (A fact that seems lost on the commenting editor from Voyager). Mark Lawrence's 'Prince of Thorns' was always going to split opinions. The main character is a fourteen year old prince who's spent the last four years leading a band of morrally bankrupt men across the countryside, leaving a trail of murder and rape in their paths.
I hope I never meet anyone like sociopathic Jorg in real life, but I have to admit I loved reading about the little monster. The book is told from his first person point of view, and the inside of this kid's mind is fascinating, in a terrifying kind of way. He operates to a different set of rules to the other characters in the books, (mostly because they see people as people, a trick Jorg hasn't got the hang of yet) and this allows him to pull off some pretty audacious moves. I got a real kick out of seeing him outwit men twice his age.
But! As witty and sharp as Jorg's voice is, (truly, his inner monologue is a wicked delight to read) style is not enough to carry a whole book. Whereas some authors can get away with neglecting character arcs, that is just not an option here. Jorg is a monster when the book opens, and as a reader I had to trust that he would change. It's not that there are not plenty of books out there with characters who start bad and end worse, because their are. It's just that Jorg is so young. Ok, call me a sap, but I was only able to enjoy this book by believing that there was a chance for Jorg to find some small amount of redemption.
And there were hints throughout the book that he might. This is only part one of a trilogy, so obviously everything was not puppies and rainbows by the end. But Jorg had changed, he had grown. We caught a few glimpses of something that might have been remorse, there was the suggestion of depths to Jorgs character beyond murder and mayhem. Enough to make me very intrigued to see how Jorg's character will grow across the next two books.
There other thing that really, really impressed me about this book was the world building. What first presents as your fairly standard medieval world is slowly and subtly revealed to be something else entirely. I really can't praise highly enough how Lawrence slowly revealed the truth of his world. It reminded me of season 5 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer when Dawn is introduced. At first you're all "what is this madness? Do the writer's think we're dumb?" but then it turns out they had a plan all along. Mark Lawrence has a plan, people. I apologise if this all seems a little vague, but honestly half the fun I had with this book came from figuring the world out, and I don't want to spoil it for anyone.
The thing most people, even those who didn't like it, praise about this book is the prose itself. They're right to praise it, there is a wit and economy to Lawrence's writing that is really impressive. But there are many other things to be enjoyed here as well, if the reader is willing to trust in Lawrence's overall plan.
I bought this book