Review: Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence

Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence
Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence

Prince of Thorns
Mark Lawrence
Harper, 2011

I initially put off reading Mark Lawrence’s Prince of Thorns due to some earlier reviews which discussed the novel’s copious amounts of violence and depravity. However, I came across another review that mentioned the world of Prince of Thorns, revealing a minor spoiler, that rocketed Lawrence’s debut to the top of my read pile. Those initial reviews that discussed the novel were absolutely correct Prince of Thorns is an often shockingly violent novel with a protagonist about as far from being a hero as a person can get. At the same time the violence is not aggrandized in any way and the acts of the titular Prince Jorg and his band of outlaws is never painted in a welcome light.

Prince Jorg Ancrath witnesses, at a young age, the murder of his mother and younger brother. Surviving only because he escaped the carriage his family was riding in and fell into a thorn bush. The pain, both physical and emotional, of this event radically change Jorg whose cool analytical and highly intelligent mind hide a near bottomless well of icy rage. Towards the end of his convalescence Jorg frees several bandit’s from his father’s dungeons and escapes joining with them on a quest for revenge. Four years later, at age fourteen, Jorg is still on his quest now leading those same bandits pillaging the countryside and harassing the people who serve, and live, under the rule of the man had his mother and brother killed.

Jorg is not a good person. The event of his mother and brother’s deaths, combined with the ravaging his body received from the thorns have served to bring about something of a monster. It washed away his previous conceptions of morality and justice and his new truth regarding the world is one founded on violence of pain. Lawrence carefully characterizes Jorg with a strange combination of equal parts icy calm and blazing rage. Remorseless of the atrocities he has committed on the road to revenge yet dead set on his own twisted version of justice. Its sort of as if his other emotions have been extinguished, scoured away by his anger.

Jorg is a compelling character. He is brutal, intelligent, charismatic and determined. The question, and the one that was in the back of my mind, was whether or note the Jorg seen throughout the course of Prince of Thorns is one that always existed or one that was created wholesale by his experiences? Since the novel stays locked on to Jorg’s first-person perspective, and the flashback sections only show Jorg after his mother and brother have been killed it something that nags at me. For my part I think that the Jorg we never see would still have trended high on the psychopath scale. We won’t ever know that answer, though I suspect Jorg had a narcissistic personality disorder before he witnessed his mother and brother killed; particularly if his father’s behavior in the novel is any indication.

Along with the consistently interesting Jorg, Lawrence crafts a splendid and disturbingly vivid world. A place where the dead walk, and the inhabitants of the Broken Empire live amongst the ruins of a very familiar world. There is a certain quality to the writing, a strongly rooted sense of place, particularly when Jorg and his bandits descend beneath a mountain, that reminded me very much of the twisted landscapes of C. L. Moore. Indeed I think that Lawrence’s story, at least the core of it, would have been perfectly at home with the pages of Weird Tales or Planet Stories of yesteryear. Prince of Thorns owes a lot to sword and sorcery fiction.

Prince of Thorns is accomplished first novel and it’s easy to forget while reading that it is Mark Lawrence’s debut. Equal parts disturbing and engrossing it came to a satisfying conclusion that still left me hungry to dive back into the next volume (King of Thorns, due this year). While I don’t expect Jorg to turn any new leaves I am seriously excited to see what he does next. Bottom line, if you don’t mind violence and grit and absolutely love fantasy then you should read Prince of Thorns as soon as possible.

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