Saturday, September 22, 2012

Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence: A Review

Not sure exactly when or where I first heard of Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence, but it intrigued me, so I grabbed the free sample of it and eventually gave it a quick reading. I say "quick" because it was so well-written, I tore through it. The page opened up and swallowed me, and I was thoroughly hooked, the end of the free sample coming way too soon for my taste. I added it to my "Read This Book! List" and waited for the price to scale down from the $13 price tag. I knew I would read it at some point, when funds allowed. Well, a month or so ago it dropped to $2.99, so I snagged it and filed it away.

The time seemed right to read it, so yesterday I dove in, and today, I am done. Wow, what a book.

Young Prince Jorg is a complex creature. You've no doubt encountered characters before that are "shades of grey", as far as ethically/morally.... meet Jorg, a character comprised of shades of black. When we are introduced to him, he and his band of thugs have just ransacked a village, and are looting the place before burning it to the ground. A villager named Bovid sits in the street, holding his guts in, watching Jorg's crew break down the door to his house...

I looked at the ravens, I watched Gemt and his half-wit brother, Maical, taking heads, Maical with the cart and Gemt with the axe. A thing of beauty, I tell you. At least to look at. I'll agree war smells bad. But we'd torch the place soon enough and the stink would all turn to wood-smoke. Gold rings? I needed no more payment. 
"Boy!" Bovid called out, his voice all hollow like, and weak. 
I went to stand before him, leaning on my sword, tired in my arms and legs all of a sudden. "Best speak your piece quickly, farmer. Brother Gemt's a'coming with his axe. Chop-chop." 
He didn't seem too worried. It's hard to worry a man so close to the worm feast. Still, it irked me that he held me so lightly and called me "boy." "Do you have daughters, farmer? Hiding in the cellar maybe? Old Rike will sniff them out." 
Bovid looked up sharp at that, pained and sharp. "H-how old are you, boy?" 
Again the "boy." "Old enough to slit you open like a fat purse," I said, getting angry now. I don't like to get angry. It makes me angry. I don't think he caught even that. I don't think he even knew it was me that opened him up not half an hour before. 
"Fifteen summers, no more. Couldn't be more..." His words came slow, from blue lips in a white face. 
Out by two, I would have told him, but he'd gone past hearing. The cart creaked up behind me, and Gemt came along with his axe dripping. 
"Take his head," I told them. "Leave his fat belly for the ravens." 
Fifteen! I'd hardly be fifteen and rousting villages. By the time fifteen came around, I'd be king!

This is our introduction to the young runaway prince.

When he was ten, his carriage was waylayed by hired killers. He was traveling with his mother the Queen, and his younger brother, and a handful of guards. It was night, and pouring rain. When the attack came, a guard tore open the stopped carriage's door and tried to get the royal family out. He grabbed Jorg first and pitched him out of the vehicle -- and into a nearby thorn thicket. That's as far as the guard got before the assassin's were upon them. From the midst of the thicket, by lightning-light, young Jorg watched his family butchered, held tight by thorns digging into his flesh, unable to move. He watched his childhood end, his world turn upside-down, spending a long, wet, terrifying night in the thorn's embrace. When the rescue party finally extricated him from the bush the next morning, close to death, Jorg was changed for good.

When his father, the King, discovers who was responsible for the attack -- and decides it would be more beneficial to eschew vengeance in favor of a more politically rewarding solution, young Jorg's path is set. A sequence of events sees him leaving the comfort of the castle in which he lived for a life on the road, and hopefully a path that lead will to vengeance for his mother and brother's death. This remarkably precocious young man falls in with a rough crowd, and soon becomes the leader, and the game is afoot.

And what a ride.

The story itself is non-stop and full of satisfying and memorable events, but the way it is written makes the story shine all the brighter. The wordplay, the dialog, the way chew-worthy concepts and statements are woven into the tale... this gentleman Mark Lawrence is a cut above. He dances on that tightrope from page one, crafting that exquisite tension in the reader that at once makes us want to pause a few moments to contemplate something that was said/done, and also want to tear ahead to find out what happens next. What a wonderful accomplishment.

Throughout the first third of the book, I found myself shaking my head, thinking, "No man, of any age, could be this black, this heartless, this devoid of mercy..." and it turns out I was right, though not in a way I expected, and not in a way I would feel comfortable revealing here. In fact, there is so much I would like to talk about here, and I am wrestling... how much to share? How much of the satisfaction in this journey came from finding it out myself, without any knowledge of what lay ahead? How much should I sneak in here, in an effort to pique your interest enough to get you to add this title to your "Read This Book! List" like I did? I don't believe there's a misstep or a weak scene or story choice in the entire book -- including a wonderful reveal about the history of the world in which the story takes place (a risky story choice that could have backfired on a less skillful author).

You've heard me gush about books before. You may have even taken my advice on such books in the past. If so, I will let that past experience guide you in this case. If my recommendation paid off for you before, then I urge you to consider this tale. If not, then perhaps you should pass on it. If you like dark, gritty, thought-provoking, well-crafted fantasy, then this is as close to a sure thing as I've read this year or any.

Summary: 4.75/5 I dock it a quarter of a point based only on the "Ender Wiggin Factor," which pops into my mind any time I read a story featuring a kid who is way too smart, well beyond what is realistic for the age, regardless of IQ. No kid of Jorg's age would be so very advanced in so many ways, physically, mentally, emotionally. But I forgive it easily, because what he does and says is so thoroughly entertaining. Mark Lawrence is a terrific author, and I look forward to reading more in this series.


Anonymous said...

One most excellent book review, Sir David.


David Wagner said...

Thanks, Havette! The better the book, the easier it is to write a review...

logankstewart said...

I kind of just skimmed this review the other night, but I didn't have ability to comment. This is a book that I've wanted to read, if only to see if the fuss is true about the protagonist. I'll read it eventually. From what I read of your review, and from your score, I take it that it was most enjoyable.

(Honestly, though, a 4.75? I'm guessing the value is just a arbitrary variable?)

David Wagner said...

Logan: I didn't feel right docking a whole half-star because of a personal taste issue... the book really was great. Still, the Ender Wiggin factor could not be denied... Prince Jorg really shouldn't have been so advanced in so many ways at such a young age... I had to nick the score a bit because of it... still, I loved the book.