Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I had heard about this novel's nasty teenage protagonist, Jorg, and bought the book because (as a writer myself) I was specifically interested in how a novelist could create any sympathy for an unpleasant protagonist; or, rather, whether they could succeed in this.
Well, the nastiest references to acts are near the start, when we casually discover that the protagonist raped, then burnt women alive. I almost put the book down at that point, but I wanted to know how, if at all, the writer would try and redeem Jorg. Well, he doesn't really. You can't. What happens is that so much occurs quickly that later events just swamp out the first few pages. Also, later explanations imply diminished responsibility for Jorg. None of that convinced me though. After finishing the novel I think it would have been better without those extra nasty references at the start. My dislike of the protagonist for that was never overcome, and the acts were beyond what was required to establish the antihero. I know that the author was partly inspired by A Clockwork Orange, but that doesn't mean that the worst parts needed to be emulated.
The rest of the book, if we ignore the unpleasant core character, is well written, well paced, always on the move, full of action and intrigue and duels of words. My biggest problem was not caring about the main characters. When you don't care if they live or die, and you're not given anyone good enough to root for, their causal deaths are just names dropping off a page. Attempts to redeem them later are paper thin. So Makin is a protective knight who risks his life to fulfil his role, and misses his wife and daughters? Square that with his actions at the start, slaughtering peasants and joking about the rape and murder of women. There's no consistency; it is not convincing; they're two separate characters with the same name. It's a shame because so much of the novel is excellent. I think the overt attempt to shock at the start (or to downplay the cruelty, which would be even more worrying) actually damages many of the later workings of the book.
I said the writing is good, though it is prone to cliche sometimes - I got tired of characters spitting on the ground to punctuate their sentences (it felt like it had to happen once per chapter).
Another mixed blessing is that the writer plays with setting in an interesting way; unfortunately I don't think it is fully successful, particularly in the twists of "ancient" language and the culture that survived. There are references to ancient authors; these tell us we are on Earth; an early paraphrase of The Wizard of Oz is a tip-off that we may not be in the past. Once we find out more it becomes doubtful that ancient authors and their comparably few works (almost lost to time now) would somehow survive where the absolute tsunami of modern culture in every format is completely lost. The reason this is so is for author expedience (so Lawrence can play the trick up his sleeve) for a twist that is then over quickly; it would have been better for the world-building if a more convincing survival had taken place.
I haven't read, seen, or played Game of Thrones, but it existed long before this book was written, and from the little I know of George Martin's work I imagine it was an influence on Lawrence. Even the phrase "game of thrones" is used twice in the novel. So if you like Martin's work, you may like this book (and its two sequels).
I enjoyed the adventure, and the way it was written: it passed the time. The bitter taste of the start was slightly milder by the end, though it didn't leave me wanting to read further books in the series. My reticence is furthered by the fact that each one is more expensive than the last - a publisher tactic that smacks of drug pushers who want to get you hooked and invested so they can charge more later. I got what I came for and am happy to say bye to the Prince of Thorns world and move on.
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One print copy of Prince Of Thorns to give away.
Send me an email (see contacts page) with the answer to these cryptic questions:
a) What is Chris's surname?
b) What bird is Anne named after?
The first correct answer drawn from the bag on Friday 20th February (2015) wins.