Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence is a book steeped in controversy - a book that seems to have divided the Science Fiction and Fantasy community with regards to what is acceptable for people to like and enjoy. The book has been out for a couple of years already, the arguments for various perspectives have already been well established, but I hope I can still add something new to the conversation.
Prince of Thorns is a confronting story, deliberately so, that follows a 13 year old boy named Jorg who leads a gang of marauders as they pillage their way across the countryside. Jorg is a sociopath, a willing participant, and readers get to experience the world through his damaged viewpoint. Readers get to see, through Jorg's eyes, the cold apathy with which he dispatches his enemies. They get to see Jorg's uncaring reminiscence of when he raped those farm girls before setting them on fire. He knows he probably should care or feel bad about the things that he is doing, but he doesn't. And that is discomforting.
I think it is easy to understand why people do not like this book, so I think the better question would be what is it that people like about this book? One aspect is the writing - the prose is just so effective at transporting you away and putting you directly in Jorg's head. It is vivid, it is visceral, and it feels so real. The prose really allows you to escape, to live as someone else, and even though that someone else is an irredeemable psychopath, the effortless escape is just so appealing to a lot of people. Another aspect is the setting - a far future feudal society where we get a glimpse of what our world might become if we managed to trigger a nuclear singularity. This type of setting sparks a great deal of interest for a lot of people - we just love postulations about post apocalyptic worlds.
They are just two aspects, but they don't completely cover why I liked the book so much. For me, it was all about Jorg - not my empathy for him, but my fascination with him. Lawrence gives us a damaged boy doing horrible things in a damaged world, and I want to explore the how and the why. Is Jorg's psyche something he was born with, or was it forged by the environment he lived in, and the horrific events he was forced to endure. Does he have the capacity for growth or has that been shattered. Could he ever recover from the damage inflicted, and if he could, would he even want to? The thorns have been embedded deep within Jorg's body and mind, they have festered and those that remain continue to fester, and whether or not they ever get completely extracted, the damage may just be irreparable.
Prince of Thorns tells the story of a young boy broken by the depravity of humanity. It wasn't a fun story for me to read, and yet I still enjoyed it to the very end. I don't think Prince of Thorns is for everyone, but that is another aspect I like about the book - it dares to take a chance and shine a light on some pretty confronting stuff. It generates discussion wherever it is read, and the genre grows because of this discussion. Prince of Thorns is an important milestone in the modern fantasy landscape.
Ryan Lawler, 9/10
Dubbed ‘the British answer to George R. R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones’, there’s more than a little of A Song of Ice and Fire in debutant Mark Lawrence’s book. The Prince of Thorns is a dark story that follows the path of a ruthless thirteen year old prince who was irreparably scarred by the murder of his mother and brother at a young age. Prince Honorous Jorg Ancrath has now dedicated his life to revenge, seeking to exact a grisly death on their killer Count Renar.
A considerable part of what gives Lawrence’s story such impact is the age of his violent protagonist. At thirteen, the darkness that controls Jorg is a truly horrific - yet captivating - power to behold. It’s easy to forget the few summers the prince has lived in the face of his sharp mind and sharper sword, but Lawrence ensures you’re reminded of it just often enough to keep the horror current – whether by noting Jorg’s stature, an offhand comment made by one of his comrades or during the more revealing flashbacks that remind us how recently his luxurious court life vanished.
Initially there’s a worry that this leading lad will be an irritating, snobby little royal who dishes out orders to his followers simply because his lineage decrees he can. This preconception is quickly banished however in the face of a prince who’s as indistinguishable from, and as road-trodden as the battle-hardened men he rides with. Obsessed with ‘winning the game’, Jorg has no qualms about sacrificing any or all of his pieces, the way in which he does so occurring so momentarily that it’s often easy to miss. This attitude is reflected in Lawrence’s clipped writing style, the author wasting as little time lamenting death as Jorg does.
Lawrence’s style and pacing is spot on here, the flashbacks and pre-chapter anecdotes adding much needed context and light relief to the dark tale. The gradual disclosure of the big picture, exposing Jorg’s part as a pawn in the larger game of kings and kingdoms, is also artfully done, creating a number of spine-tingling moments that really accentuate the prince’s place in the grander scheme.
The pacing falters somewhat on the crew’s venture into the Gorge of Leucrota, and Jorg’s penchant for good luck will feel a little too convenient a little too often for some, but these are small gripes in a book that really is very difficult to put down.
A dark debut with a lot of clout, Prince of Thorns is fantastic tale of one boy’s fight for control in a world threatening to engulf him.
Alice Wybrew, 9/10
7 positive reader review(s) for Prince of Thorns
Interview by Timy Takacs and James TivendaleWhat is your favorite fantasy creature and why?I’m far from sure I have a favourite fantasy creature. I’m not really a creature kind of guy. I’ll say lizardma [...]
Nana from NIG
Beautiful book, unique characters, great humor, Jorg is SOMETHING...
Kiana from United States
Many things for an adventerous reader to adore about this series, and it's sister series "Red Queen's War": * The setting. The post apocalyptic world in which it takes place is its own character - subtly revealed, but integral, and interesting as hell. * The grit. This is not a series for vapid people. It's challenging, visceral. If you don't find value in exploring evil and its accompanying accoutraments, don't read it. * The moral dilemma. I felt guilty as my horrified disdain of Jorgen morphed into fandom. And Jalan, well, I admit I rooted for that weezle from the beginning. * The balance. I needed Red Queens War after Broken Empire. I didn't want to give the world up. But Broken Empire was exhausting. RQW was delightful. * The story. It's a page-turner - unique, and still a-tale-as-old-as-time. It unfolds in different domains - The physical, psychological, spiritual.
Andrew from Australia
What amazes me is nobody mentions the great humour of this book. Off beat, dark or sarcastic it adds another dimension most other authors do not bring to this genre. Who cares about sentence construction, syntax or what words used, surely we read fiction especially fantasy for entertainment and mind journeys and fun. Get off your high horses and just enjoy. Mark Lawrence has become a must read in my book. The new Red Sister is as good ;but with less of the original humour.
Blanche from France
Prince of Thorns follows the recent turn in fantasy that thrives on gritty realism and dark stories mixed with subverted yet very present fantasy tropes, and I believe it is about the only way it could be compared with Martin's work, because otherwise they're two very different animals. We are introduced to Jorg, prince of Ancrath, damaged by the violent murder of his mother and brother while he watched helpless, held by the thorns of a hook briar, and his subsequent quest for revenge and power. Hurt, perhaps irreversibly, Jorg is prepared to do anything to achieve his goals and offers us dark, remorseless, awful acts all the while contemplating on the world. Set in a post apocalyptic future returned to feudalism, PoT is the story of a damaged youth in a damaged world that can't help but fascinate you, scare you, but mostly take you in the horrific and enthralling ride that is his adventure. It brushes many subjects but mainly offers a reflection on men, the very best and the very worst of what humanity is capable of producing, Jorg himself epitomizing that subject. Lawrence's prose is truly magnificent and flows smoothly, the building of suspense in two separate but equally interesting timelines brilliantly handled. It's a book that's disturbing because it deals with dark situations and problems one does not necessarily bear thinking about, but that, along with its fast paced sotryetlling and unique hero is the true force of this novel. I've read the whole trilogy and the dreadful acts and tantalising suspense only grow as the stakes get higher, and I would absolutely recommend those books to any fan -not only of fantasy or SF- but of a good story providing food for thought. I like to say this story is like playing with fire, it's fascinating and beautiful, but it will burn you. It's not a tale that leaves the reader unscathed (though that's more valid with the second and third instalment).
Bryn from UK
I wonder if Marie (above) may have had problems with the writing because she's not a native speaker of English. Lawrence is a master of the language, but it's certainly true that you could get left behind if you can't cope with powerful use of prose. I loved this book and the whole trilogy. It's a masterwork of the genre.
Smash from US
I picked this book up because I'm "patiently" waiting on the 6th ASOIF book and heard this book was like that series. I was disappointed in that it's absolutely nothing like ASOIF, however that was the only downside to it. Jorg was a fascinating character with such a tragic back story it's not surprising he does the things he does. One of my favorite moments is the fight with the necromancers, as the author does a great job in describing the action through Jorg's POV and from a character stand point it was the first time we really see him bothered by another characters' death. I would highly recommend this book of you don't mind the violence and rape. I just finished reading this novel today and plan on getting King of Thorns within the next couple of days.
Ewan from Britain
First things first, this book is not fantasy. It is very very slow revealing Science Fiction which uses Fantasy tropes. But thats just pedantry. Other than that it is truly brilliant and left me wanting the next book right now. The writing is visceral and fast paced and while none of the characters are exactly likeable they are very engrossing in their own way. The comparisons to ASOIAF are very misleading in my opinion as it is nowhere near as involved in Politics, War and is in no way on such an epic scale. There is only one POV after all. I can only imagine that people heard the main character mention "the game of thrones" and decided that that made it similar. I recommend this book to anyone with a love for violent fantasy and especially for anyone passionate about post apocalyptic fiction as the slow reveal of certain facts through out the novel make this especially tantalising.
9.5/10 from 8 reviews