Prince of Thorns
By Mark Lawrence
Paperback, 319 pages
After watching his mother and brother murdered, young Jorg leaves his father’s castle and finds himself among a band of bloodthirsty bandits. By age thirteen he’s their leader and hell-bent on seeking revenge and claiming his role as heir to the throne of Ancrath. But to do that, he must once again face his father and survive the trickery of the court mage.
Yo, this book was really good. Real talk, I bought it last July and left it on my shelves to collect dust (“Like you do to all of us!” my books moan at me) until Mark Lawrence commented on the IG picture I posted when I hauled it. I immediately felt guilty and added it to my April TBR and I’m so glad I did.
I really love the band of bandit brothers trope (say that five times fast) and this book hit the spot. What’s more fun than a hoard of grimy, bloodthirsty men marauding through towns, burning and pillaging? Well, a hoard of grimy, bloodthirsty men marauding through towns, burning and pillaging and led by a deranged teenage boy!
After witnessing the murder of his mother and brother while trapped in a particularly vicious thorn bush, Jorg was never the same. Really, who would be? His father fails to avenge the murders and Jorg is plagued by the poison from the thorns. When a chance to escape his home arises, Jorg seizes it and never looks back. Through the occasional flashback, Jorg’s escape and climb to the top of the gang is revealed.
I’m not entirely convinced a group of grown men would follow a thirteen-year-old boy, no matter how bloodthirsty and brutal he is. But, Jorg doesn’t feel thirteen, so maybe that’s part of it. I realize his circumstances would have caused him to mature faster (and there’s the argument that children in ye olden tymes were more mature than those of today’s world), but I still think he should have been a touch more…vulnerable. Or something. He felt sixteen or seventeen. Not a huge difference, but it was something that niggled at me. Oh, also he’s apparently six feet tall?! Wild.
Despite my hang-ups about Jorg’s age, he had a compelling narrative. He’s a complete asshole and totally unlikable, but his journey was entertaining and I enjoyed the little snippets about his fellow bandits. Jorg is headstrong and cocky and not the best at making decisions, but I never wanted to stop reading.
I also have to call Lawrence out for using a version of the most clichéd line ever: “I let go of a breath I hadn’t realized I’d been keeping.” I laughed when I read it.
More compelling than Jorg’s murderous path back to his father’s castle was the world itself. There’s a map, which I looked at approximately twice. From what I understand, the Broken Empire is splintered into like 100 little factions or something. Each family feels they’re entitled to the throne and there’s a lot of fighting and alliances. Also, there’s a lady pope!
More interesting than that though, is that there’s magic AND high technology that is apparently left over from a nuclear blast or something that destroyed the previous way of life. So it’s like medieval times that resulted after some sort of apocalyptic event in “our times” PLUS magic! Those are hard ingredients to blend, but Lawrence pulls it off with subtle clues along the way. Jorg isn’t riding around on a motorcycle or hovercar or anything. There’s only a hint of some advanced tech that left me very curious.
There are mages (one in particular who is all tattooed and seemed to be tracing them to cast spells) and necromancers and strange monster-like people who live hidden in caves and also have powers that maybe resulted from a chemical leak. There are also mentions of Plato, Nietzsche and Shakespeare, leading me to believe that Jorg’s world is a sort of continuation of the world we live in now.
I flew through this in two sittings – it’s very readable. It’s got the depth of detail and world-building I expect in my fantasy, without being heavy. If you like unlikable narrators, murderous bandits, pillaging and plundering, magic, genre mixing, fractured kingdoms and brotherhood, I think you’ll enjoy Prince of Thorns. I can’t wait to get my hands on the sequels!