So, I have been buried under work recently and have had almost no time to make a post, or even read a book. However, this month I read a book that I felt I had to take time to write about. Many of you know who Mark Lawrence is. For those of you who don’t, he is the author of two very popular series that some would describe as some of the ‘darkest’ and ‘edgiest’ fantasy out there.
His first series, The Broken Empire Trilogy, follows an absolutely terrible human being named Jorg as he murders his way to success in a bubble of self absorption. Now I am sure you can sense from the tone that I did not enjoy The Broken Empire Trilogy. I am not saying the books were bad, I am simply saying I did not like them. But, something weird happened while I was reading the trilogy. I found the first book, Prince of Thorns, completely forgettable and the third book, Emperor of Thorns, completely unenjoyable. However, the second book, King of Thorns, I really enjoyed. The structure, character development, and plot all hit a really good place for me and I ended up rating King of Thorns as one of my favorite books for the year I read it. That being said, the third book left a very bad taste in my mouth. While I can see why many like it, it was just truly not my kind of story. Many of my close friends (who share similar tastes) agreed with me and they all swore off Mark Lawrence as a talentless hack. I was not convinced.
It is always important to try and understand why you didn’t like a book. Sometimes it is because you thought the book was poorly written, sometimes it is that the style is off, and sometimes it is simply that you do not like the plot or subject matter. As many of my companions wrote off Mark Lawrence, I continued to think about King of Thorns. So after Prince of Fools, the first book of his second trilogy, came out I considered it. I did not immediately grab the book, but I picked it up a few months ago on the cheap thinking it might be worth consideration. Multiple people told me I was wasting my time and money and that I would regret picking it up. They were all wrong.
While The Broken Empire follows Jorg as he murders his way to the top of a food chain, The Red Queens War (of which Prince of Fools is the first book) follows Jal and he tries to avoid all responsibility and enjoy life. This soon proves to be impossible as he is unwillingly set on a hero’s quest, something he is extremely unhappy about and looks for every opportunity to back out. With him is a viking companion named Snorri who is driven by noble virtues and motives on the same quest. These two characters have an incredible juxtaposition and Mark’s manipulation of both their emotions is masterfully done. While Jal is still not a good person, I found him infinitely more relatable and enjoyable to read than Jorg and his thorns.
My problem with Mark’s original trilogy is that I simply did not enjoy reading about the main character and that there were many elements of the plot I was not a fan of. On the other hand, I felt that he is an amazing world builder, is great at character development, and has a real talent for dialogue and pacing. It turns out that removing Jorg (and in fact making him a side character) cut the heart out of all my problems with the work. Prince of Fools continues Mark’s tradition of an incredibly well built world, clever dialogue, and character growth; but this time I love both the characters and plot. As a result, the book turned out to be one my the most enjoyable reads I have had in a while and will be picking up a copy of the sequel, The Liar’s Key, soon.
Authors wear many hats and it’s important to remember that a single book is hopefully not a good representation of their entire work. My experience with these books has inspired me to consider other authors I have written off over the years and think about why I stopped reading them. To Mark, I know you read almost everything on fantasy sites and that you are a great force in the fantasy genre, and I want to thank you for writing a book for me.
Rating: Prince of Fools – 9.0/10