Mark Lawrence’s Prince of Thorns.

Prince of Thorns (The Broken Empire, #1)Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’ve been meaning to write a review of Mark Lawrence’s book for some time; I read the book over a year ago, but things never quite aligned. Anyway, Lawrence is one of the new, cutting edge fantasy writers, and very popular. His protagonist – Prince Jorg – is a kind of fantasy Flashman, a lying, cheating, sociopath who returns after some years on the road as a thuggish criminal to his father’s domain. His intention: to reunite the lands under his sociopathic rule.

It’s an excellent novel which zips along with dark wit and action. Lawrence has mastered early the skill – essential to be popular – of sparse writing. For a musician, the notes which aren’t played are as important as those which are. You musicians quite often fall into the trap of showing of their virtuosity, of playing too much (this, I might say, is something a weakness of mine, in my own work). Lawrence doesn’t have that problem, and it helps explain the wide appeal of his book.

I find a lot of fantasy derivative and, well, boring, even though I write it myself. My own tastes have me searching for something I’ve never read before. I want surprise. Lawrence’s world isn’t too surprising, but it’s a testament to his narrative skill that he kept me reading. He knows how to keep us wondering: what will happen next? Prince of Thorns is not a deep examination of society or a radical recasting of the genre; it’s primarily entertainment and good entertainment at that.

Lawrence has – from what I understand – come under attack for having an antihero as a protagonist, and for the fact that the bulk of the characters are men. This seems to me to miss the point. It’s not the actions (murder, cheating, rape, etc) that a character undertakes in a book, or they types of characters, but rather the attitude the book takes to those characters and their actions. Of course, there is an ambivalence to Prince of Thorn’s attitude to Jorg: it’s impossible to see things through his eyes without investing in him in some way. But there’s no doubt in my mind that Jorg is not being held up as a hero. We’re not supposed to think he’s a good guy. Indeed, there’s an implicit critique of him all the way through the novel, a kind of dialectical undercurrent that continually reminds you that this guy is bad.

Lawrence is published pretty much everywhere, and he’s obviously writing parallel to the Grimdark writers. Along with the Game of Thrones TV adaption, he’s part of an entire wave of darker fantasy, which it seems to me reflects our times – I think of it as fantasy after 9/11. Lawrence is one of its foremost representatives.

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