Prince of Fools runs parallel, at least chronologically, to Mark Lawrence’s Broken Empire trilogy. Lawrence is close to the top of my list of new(er) fantasy writers and the Broken Empire trilogy is one my favorite reads probably in the last decade so seeing a new title is exciting news. Prince Jalan is a bet far down the line from the throne currently occupied by his grandmother The Red Queen. Jalan spends his time shirking responsibility, running from conflict, and basically spending all of his considerable effort in looking out for the most important person in the world: himself. The Red Queen summons her lineage to hear the testimony of several prisoners who claim that war is coming and hear the Jalan first sees the Northman named Snorri ver Snagason. Jalan thinks little of Snorri’s tale of the dead returning to plague the living and see him for what he: potential profit in the fighting pits. Jalan’s selfish decision to suborn Snorri’s freedom sets forth a chain reaction of sort that snags the young prince and the stoic Northman in events both dangerous and dire.
It is interesting to note that there a some skeletal similarities to Prince of Fools and the Broken Empire trilogy. Both series lean on a character whose moral constitution is, to put it mildly, limited at best. Both Jorg and Jalan are primarily selfish characters. The main plot of Prince of Fools as in Prince of Thorns is predicated to a large degree on the selfish nature of the main character. It struck me early in the novel that as selfish as Jalan is he is in many respects a “anti-Jorg.” Where Jorg’s selfishness has fired in a forge of violence and rage, Jalan’s has instead been honed by indulgence and idleness. Jalan is a spoiled nobleman, unused to hardship and fully cognizant that the primacy of his own safety and survival makes him a coward in the eyes of those around him. He just doesn’t care.
Snorri is the complete opposite of Jalan in every way. A commoner on a quest for revenge Snorri is a man used to hardship and hard work and the two characters work quite well as foils for one another. Their contrary natures is further compounded by the magical spell that binds them together. It is a clever device and Lawrence implements it so that the spell interacts with the basic natures of both men in an interesting and unexpected way. The novel leans heavily on the notion of opposites and the idea that they both attract and repel; it is in many ways the primary thesis of the novel. The opposite energies of the spell that infects both Snorri and Jalan contain the power for great destruction yet it is that same destructive energy that fuels the quest both men inevitably set forth on. The tension created by the opposing binary natures of the two men is frequently the catalyst for events in the novel with Jal’s shortcomings often playing into Snorri’s strengths and vice versa.
Prince of Fools feels like its more layered with nuance than the Broken Empire novels. While Lawrence sacrifices none of the action from his previous series he still manages to engender a sense of wheels within wheels over ther course of Prince of Fools. While Jalan and Snorri remain the focus of the novel they are in many ways pawns, albeit pawns with some personal agency, of other powers. Both men are manipulated throughout the story, and for Jalan perhaps even longer, into the positions they find themselves forced to act (in wildly different manners) in accordance to their natures and strange magic that binds them together. The world of Prince of Fools is one that I am endlessly fascinated with and more adventures in this strange, yet familiar, land are always welcome; doubly so when they manage to build upon the depth and mystery of previous novels. Prince of Fools marks the beginning of something new and subtly different from Lawrence’s previous work and I definitely look forward to seeing where this new series takes readers.