Thursday, 18 September 2014

Review: Prince of Thorns, by Mark Lawrence

Prince of Thorns is the first of three books in The Broken Empire trilogy.

The story is set in the very distant future, after a nuclear apocalypse has brought about a second dark age, and as mankind is still struggling to escape a second bout of feudalism. Technology has regressed to a more or less medieval state, and an awful lot of knowledge has been lost.

Power is splintered as a hundred petty lords battle for the imperial throne. Jorg is the eldest son of a king. At nine years of age he survives an assassination attempt by one of his father’s enemies which kills his mother and brother. Shortly thereafter he flees the relative safety of his father’s castle and takes up with a band of criminal scum. It’s there that we first encounter him.

The story centres firmly on Jorg, as he chooses to finally return home (at the grand old age of fourteen) and is given a nigh on impossible task by his father. The prince is a ruthless, black-hearted youth, and his father is perhaps even harder. There’s an almost, but not quite, unremittingly dark tone to the book. Jorg kills people in large number and has no qualms about inflicting pain or fighting dirty. He does, however, have a quick wit, a fondness (though he tries not to) for a few of his ruffian underlings and is occasionally lost as a teenager can be.

The secondary cast are not fleshed out too much as Jorg takes front and centre stage. Several are given a bit more depth, particularly Makin and Rike, and this approach works well. The ‘brothers’ do come across as a rough company of scum but the spotlight is firmly on Jorg.

The setting is immensely likeable. I prefer fantasy to sci-fi, and although there are very occasional snippets of what could be called sci-fi the world is definitely fantasy. There’s a strong echo of the collapse of Western civilisation when the Western Roman Empire disintegrated and the ensuing Dark Ages began, and I rather like that.

Prince of Thorns is written in the first person, and the writing style is very easy to read. Chapters are (mostly) nice and brief, and I often found myself reading rather more than I had planned.

That’s not to say the book is perfect. A case could be made for a bit more development of secondary characters, and the latter part of the first third felt a bit slow. However, overall I enjoyed Prince of Thorns. The pace is generally good and was particularly fast at the end, Jorg does a good job of being engaging despite being pretty rotten and the setting is fascinating.

I will be buying King of Thorns, the sequel, at some point.


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