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.