Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence #review

The main reason I picked up Prince of Thorns was because I heard it was getting such mixed reviews. Readers either love it or loathe it, and some were getting quite vocal about hating it. Naturally, my curiosity was piqued. Now, finally, I’ve read it, and I can say it’s not the fantasy novel I expected. But it’s a helluva lot more, and then some, and I’ve joined the legions of Mark Lawrence fans who’re going to sing Jorg’s praises.

In short, Prince Jorg watched his mother raped, and then both his mother and younger brother murdered violently. Only he was lucky. A soldier had tossed him into the briar patch in a desperate bid to keep him alive, and the enemy had left him there, assuming that he was dead. Well, he didn’t die, and at the tender age of nine he had to watch the entire dismal business, unable to do anything to help save those he loved.

Even if he survived the ordeal physically, his mind underwent a dark alchemy, further exacerbated by the fact that instead of exacting revenge for the deaths of his wife and child, Jorg’s father instead takes another wife, for improved political relations with the very ruler responsible for his past queen’s death.

Jorg’s smouldering need for vengeance devours him and awakens a thirst for violent retaliation, so much so that the boy at ten frees a band of condemned mercenaries and takes to the road causing widespread mayhem.

Readers who like to live in a rose-tinted bubble without any awareness of the kind of sick shit that does happen during times of turmoil will be upset by this book. If you prefer your heroes gallant and noble, then go read a romance novel. For example, some ladies couldn’t look past the references to rape. Um. Hello. This is WAR. Rape isn’t nice but hey, if you’re living in times of civil unrest, do you honestly expect war-mongering males to politely keep their dicks in their trousers? You don’t have to like what Jorg and his merry band of adventurers get up to. Hell, I didn’t like some of the stuff they did, but I accepted it as realism. Or maybe the fact that I live in South Africa has desensitised me. It doesn’t really matter, suffice to say that I shoved aside my own sensibilities so that I could get into the story.

A whole lot of unpleasant things happen. Anyone who’s read William Golding’s The Lord of the Flies will recall what happens when a bunch of boys are left to run amok. Now put weapons and dangerous men in the hands of a highly intelligent, manipulative boy with a broken mind? Jorg is doubly dangerous because he doesn’t know fear. He is a creature of impulses ruled by an overarching lust to exact revenge for perceived wrongs. A very volatile combination, if you ask me.

I suspect under less dire circumstances, Jorg could have grown up to be the next King Solomon, a wise ruler with great compassion. But where’s the story in that? Instead Jorg’s vast intellect is bent to a more sinister task. It’s not nice what he does to attain his ends by it *feels* real.

The world-building hints at a whiff of magic underpinned with a healthy dollop suggesting a post-apocalyptic setting in such a way that it’s not at first obvious. The novel itself can be considered a coming of age story as Jorg cuts himself free from the bonds of his past. His dark, somewhat dry humour offers a counterpoint to the unrelenting death-dealing and misery. But, like with George RR Martin’s writing, don’t get too attached to the support cast. Jorg causes *a lot* of hurt but one can’t help but cheer him on throughout his depredations. Jorg has vision, and though he might be struck by the Imp of the Perverse at times, I get the idea that he might very well achieve all that he sets out to do—carve out an empire. He is not a peacemaker. He is a sociopath. But I love him anyway.

1 comment:

  1. Another point factor in Jorg's psyche, the Briar patch that he is thrown into is poisonous which provides a fevered and painful environment while he processes what happens to his family.