Dec 03 2012

Book Review: Mark Lawrence’s Prince of Thorns

Posted by Mathias in Book Reviews, Fantasy

Prince of Thorns, the debut novel my Mark Lawrence, follows the story of Jorg, a Prince with a particularly mean streak.  At the age of nine, Jorg watches as his mother and brother are brutally murdered.  He then embarks on a quest for vengeance.  It ‘s a story that has been told, and told successfully, many times.

I think that one thing is clear, Mark Lawrence has a way with words and uses them compellingly to set scenes.  But I also think one other thing is also very clear – in Prince of Thorns, that same talent is not used to give depth to the characters or the overall plot.  Prince Jorg is about as one-dimensional as they come.  His gratuitous callousness is never truly counterbalanced with a desire to feel sorry for him (which would have given him other dimensions he so sorely needed).

The violence of Prince of Thorns doesn’t bother me.  I think the battle scenes, which are constant, are very well done.  This novel is not for those who demand PC in their reading choices.  There is blood, gore, rape, etc.  If you are one of those sorts whose sensibilities get offended easily, this book is not for you.  Prince of Thorns is about war.  Bad things, very bad things, happen in war.  Especially when the main character is as dysfunctional of a psychopath as Jorg is.  If you can’t stand that sort of story, don’t read this book.  And please, for the love of God, don’t complain about it afterwards if you still choose to.  You’ve been warned.  No excuses.

While the battles are extremely well written to a level where even the tactics Jorg uses to defeat superior forces seem realistic, what hinders the narrative is that it almost doesn’t feel like a narrative at all.  Prince of Thorns feels like some sort of semi-fleshed out draft for an actual novel.  There’s a skeleton with some tendons and a little but of muscle, but there’s little flesh.  The story lacks a beating heart, or any other organs for that matter.  Well, except for maybe a disemboweled intestine or two.

To me, this story felt like another attempt at trying to recreate the magic of The Black Company by Glen Cook.  This is similar to the way I felt about Flank Hawk.  Whether true or not, whether the author’s intention or not, the impression is there and Prince of Thorns stumbles, falling well short.  Although, Prince of Thorns is certainly much better than Flank Hawk in its effort.

The story really takes the anti-hero concept as far over the top as one can go while still making the story readable.  As far as being readable, Prince of Thorns is a very fast-paced story about what happens when you piss off the wrong person.  It is certainly a page-turner, and Mr. Lawrence should be commended for that.  But it is not going to be the sort of story that will appeal to discerning readers of fantasy who like a little more depth to characters and want to feel like they can understand and sympathize with them, even when they disagree with them.

I give Prince of Thorns a respectable 3.5 out of 5 stars, meaning it is a fairly average representation of what is being published these days for fantasy.  It loses major points for the reasons I previously discussed.  You just need a little more oomph from a story, and not just gore and violence, to break in to the upper tier of my rankings.  King of Thorns is on my to read list and the sequel to this high octane adventure, so I wouldn’t say that Prince of Thorns is not worth reading.  Just realize what you are going to get when you open the cover and dive on in.

13 Responses to “Book Review: Mark Lawrence’s Prince of Thorns”

  1. Bryn Says:

    Wow. We read different books! Not deep? Just wow.

  2. angie wade Says:

    I completely agree Mathias. I felt the story was so shallow I could wade across it without getting my feet wet. You’re generous to call Prince Jorg one dimensional. I.wouldn’t have even gone that far.

    It was a fun read, but was definitely lacking substance.

  3. Cloe Says:

    No Bryn, you both read the same book. I’m sure.

    Some people just demand more from stories than others. Nothing wrong with that.

    I read Prince of Thorns earlier this year and found myself with the same general take as Mathias had. It seemed as devoid of deeper plot elements as a Nora Roberts novel IMO. For that reason I’m not too eager to pick up the sequel.

    Look, if you like stories driven by nothing but action, you’ll love this book. If you demand character development, you will find fault with it.

  4. Gary S. Says:

    Yous are all crazy. 5 stars! All the way! Don’t be haters!

  5. friendly neighborhood commentator Says:

    Is that first commenter the same Bryn who made a nuscience of him/her self on Goodreads harassing people that didn’t agree that Prince of Thorns was “5 star” quality?

  6. friendly neighborhood commentator Says:

    5 stars? Seriously Gary? You want to consider Prince of Thorns in the same category as classics of the fantasy genre like Lord of the Rings, Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia and A Wrinkle in Time?

    Get real! He gave an honest review and I think it makes all the pertinent points to justify his take.

  7. Horace Says:

    I think Prince of Thorns was somewhere between 3 and 4 stars too. I’m not sure which end it leans more towards. The action was good, which pushes it towards 4 stars. But the plot and characters were … Eh … And that nudges it towards three at the same time. I think your 3.5 is a fair mark.

    I hadn’t really considered it in terms of Cook’s The Black Company, but I see where you are coming from here. Even Croaker, as a mercenary, was likeable with faults and foibles that caused you to really like him and care about him. Prince Jorg has nothing going for him but the revenge motive and is always cold and not relatable for much of the story. You feel for his loss, once you learn about it, but he loses you with the way he reacts in such a callous manner to everything.

  8. Lark Says:

    Why do people, assholes really to be honest, feel the need to give negative reviews to great books? It’s obvious to anyone that Mathias is just JEALOUS that Mark is a published and successful author, while he is not !

  9. Ginnie Says:

    Gee Lark, you follow Mr. Lawrence’s link from Twitter to come over here and defend him?

    Yeah, hey Mathias, “Mr.” Lawrence retweeted you and basically mocked you for daring to say anything other than his book was the most awesomeness one ever written.

    I was planning on reading PoT until I saw that. Not going to now.

    Really, why would he do that? Just because you gave him 3.5 stars (above avg too) and specifically spelled out why you did? What’s he expect? People to kiss hiss ass and tell him everything he wrote was perfect? The fact that you had the sequel on your to read list should have been good enough to let him know you liked his work enough to keep reading it.

    I don’t know, is he upset that his rating.on google books for PoT is just 3.5 on average with his Goodreads rating only slightly higher?

    Anyway, I’m sure youll have lots of his fans coming over to comment.

  10. Agent X Says:

    Ginnie,

    That is indeed very disturbing on this author’s part.

    I checked out his Twitter feed and, sure enough, saw that snide little tweet of his that you mention. Borderline unprofessional. Not as bad as some overreaction to reviews as I have seen, but still an overreaction. Something I would advise my clients to NEVER do. Never ever engage reviewers, especially reviewers who essentially say the book is worth a read even though here is what I didn’t like about it simply because they articulated what they didn’t like.

    That’s why it is called a review! If you don’t discuss the good and the bad, you sound like a sock puppet.

  11. Kelly Says:

    Thanks for the review. I like gritty action fantasy, so I’ll check it out.

  12. JCL Says:

    I was going to write something else, until reading the tirade by Lark above. I thought Mr. Cavanaugh’s review of Prince of Thorns was actually fair. In fact, he seemed to have a lot of praise for certain aspects of the book such as the battle scenes. He even called a page turner worth reading. So I don’t why you thought this review was negative at all. Was it because he dared say what he didn’t like about it? I’m kind of glad to see a reviewer talk like this rather than simply saying they hated it (usually less eloquently than that) or proclaiming it the next Lord of the Rings (or whatever your choice of best fantasy is).

  13. Beyondsea Says:

    Question. Are people like Lark who dislike a review that dislikes a book hypocrites?

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