Book Review: Prince of Thorns

Prince of Thorns (The Broken Empire, #1)Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Prince of Thorns is the tale of a boy, scarred witness to the brutal murder of his mother and brother, who choses to turn his back on all things good in order to obtain vengence. This is a tale of revenge, as rich in its single mindedness as any classic by Dumas. Young Jorg forsakes every shred of his humanity to feed this desire, something initial reviewers were less than pleased with. Many lambasted this novel as dark and misogynistic, but I have to admit that I didn’t see any of that when I read it. Maybe my perspective was tempered by interviews with the author and other commentators, but when I read Prince of Thorns what I saw in Jorg was a dark, disturbed boy, a sociopath created rather than born.

The first chapter sets the tone for the kind of book you have started. The razing of a village, the flippant use of violence to send a message, and all from the perspective of the instigator. The message to the reader is simple: this isn’t going to be a light or cheery story. We are led through a world that’s almost familiar – a map that looks striking like Europe, references to Jesus and Plutarch, Shakespeare and Rome. Confusing, at first, are the references to Nietzsche and other modern writers. Rest assured it will all make sense, begging more questions than are answered in this volume. This is a world familiar to us from our own history, familiar to readers of fantasy for its near medievalness, and yet somehow ajar to what we expect.

There is something else in this story, though, something lying beneath the layer of vengeance and hatred, beneath the blood and violence. This is a story you have to finish to realize just how sad it is. Its compelling, dark tale is written in the first person, drawing the reader into Jorg’s warped, sick mind from the start. It is only through flashbacks peppered throughout the narrative that we begin to understand Jorg better. We understand the instigating moment with the briars, when he turned from ten year old boy to vengeful demon. We understand how in the course of only four years (because yes, the Jorg of book one is a young teen) Jorg could gather a band of cut throat, vile scum as his entourage. And only in the final pages of this book do we see what lies beneath the surface and what strings are really being pulled. As a reader, you have this perspective of watching Jorg take bite after painful bite from his heart, because it is bitter, and it is his.

This was a well written, easy to read debut novel. The best part? I’ve taken so long to read this book that the sequel is already out, so if you enjoy it, you can keep reading!

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