Author: Mark Lawrence
Before the thorns taught me their sharp lessons and bled weakness from me I had but one brother, and I loved him well. But those days are gone and what is left of them lies in my mother’s tomb. Now I have many brothers, quick with knife and sword, and as evil as you please. We ride this broken empire and loot its corpse. They say these are violent times, the end of days when the dead roam and monsters haunt the night. All that’s true enough, but there’s something worse out there, …
So, I finally got round to reading Prince of Thorns, and I can see why it’s really popular. As with most popular books, I won’t write a huge in depth review but will share a few thoughts of mine and whether it might be for you.
I found it such an easy, flowing read and despite being heavily grimdark and bleak, there was a lot of humour. Jorg Ancracth is the main character, 14 yrs old in this book, and I don’t know whether it’s right to call him an anti-hero; he does some really bad things that you can’t justify or be ok with, yet I couldn’t help but hope for his success. It’s not that his crimes can be forgiven, but the rest of the world around him is just as despicable, and it’s easier to side with a 14 year old the world has dealt a bad hand to than adult men acting or endorsing the same behaviours. There is a degree of sympathy for a character whose mother and little brother were murdered in front of his eyes as a young boy. There’s also the aspect of having to fit in and actually act more recklessly than a bunch of road brothers in order to fit in and be accepted. Jorg leads what are basically a group of bandits, and as the case would be in reality, there is a scale of morality within this band of miscreants and a definite dog eat dog setup. In order to survive in this brutal environment, you must be as brutal as your surroundings. There are still no excuses for some of Jorg’s actions, though, which is why he can’t be seen as a hero. I’m not a huge fan of teenagers being successful in books taking on grown men and winning, I usually stay clear of the over-skilled teenager trope. I don’t mind so much in this instance as it is rarely a straightforward swordfight or test of strength and more a case of Jorg using his wits and dirty tactics, aswell as having a guiding hand in the shadows for part of this.
It’s important to note that writing a morally decadent character isn’t an endorsement by the author – it’s a grimdark story that focuses on a group of hard, morally ambiguous men escaped from the noose. To cast them as paragons of chivalry would just be dishonest. I’ll repeat that: this is a grimdark, bleak story that follows bad people. Don’t expect sunshine and rainbows. Murder, rape, torture – it’s all there. There’s nothing gratuitous, mind you, but there can be no mistaking the world you are thrown into.
Revenge is a big theme throughout the book and I admit unashamedly I’m not one of those people who look down on the concept of revenge, I love a revenge story! As mentioned, the book just flows. The prose is well written and there are loads of quotable lines. The setting appears to be medieval until real-world figures of history are mentioned, some after the medieval period. This totally took me out of the immersion and I impatiently googled it. If I’d have read further, more would have been revealed. What looked like lazy writing is actually part of a wider plan and it works very well. You might be able to piece it together from this book or you may need the next one but stick with it as it does end up making sense afterall!
Despite many of the characters being the type you wouldn’t invite round for dinner, what they all are is interesting. There are no dull cardboard cutouts and there is no plot armour; anyone is fair game for the reaper’s scythe.
Ultimately, this gritty world with interesting characters, revenge driven plot, well written prose and fast pace made for an enjoyable read. Just don’t start reading if you don’t have the stomach for grimdark!