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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Last night I dreamt of Barsoom

Last night I dreamt of Barsoom again.

English: Green martian on his thoat. Extract f...

It doesn’t have quite the same ring as “Last night I dreamt of Manderley again,” but then I’m no Daphne Du Maurier. What’s odd about this phrase are two things:

One, I was never the biggest fan of Burroughs. While there has been a lot of research since then to counterbalance this setback, when Viking landed on Mars I was the ripe old age of one. That means that for the majority of my life, Mars has been considered a rusted orb, lifeless and devoid of water. It has only been in recent years that both of those suppositions have begun to be turned back. Despite a penchant for fantasy and science fiction, the Viking results ingrained in me a certain worldview perspective. I had a hard time reconciling the Mars of Burrough’s writing with the Mars I (thought I) knew. Even giving it some leeway for being written in 1911, my weak, immature brain couldn’t cope with that dichotomy of reality and fiction being so disparate.

Adding to that, I have a distinct distaste for travelling to any known planet via astral projection. Edgar Cayce aside, the thought of traversing the aether to arrive on a distant planet seemed ludicrous to me. Even if I were to grant the possibility of a mind leaving the body and exploring the solar system a’la astral projection, how did Carter get a new physical body? Yes, that’s right, these are the things that plague me into disbelief.

Two, I really did dream of Barsoom last night.

I’m not sure where in the subconscious it came from. I know I’ve seen at least one reference to John Carter of Mars (the movie) in a Best/Worst of 2012 list recently, and maybe that was enough, but this dream wasn’t like the movie. It was unearthly, comforting, and exciting. I don’t recall the scantily clad ladies of a Boris Vallejo or Michael Whelan cover – this was grittier, more “real” if you will. And it was beautiful. Architecture that scaled higher and further than my eye could see; martians and thoat and the dreaded white apes; danger oozing from under every rock and on the other side of every wall. Whatever the catalyst, I was on a quest (but of course), and completing it was the only thing that could save both Jasoom (Earth) and Barsoom (Mars) from mutual destruction.

It was fantastic. I would pay to go back there again.

And now I am back in the here and now, in my study, staring out the window at the cold winter’s day just a few feet and inches of glass away, daydreaming of going back to Barsoom.

P.S. When I attempted to explain to my wife that I dreamt of Barsoom last night, she gave me a blank stare and our soon to be nine year old piped up with “Were there white apes?” Fatherly pride, folks, fatherly pride.


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When to give up writing

Jane Friedman has a somewhat topical post up entitled “How Long Should You Keep Trying To Get Published?” (which in turn is a reprint of an article in Writer’s Digest from 2011) which seems rather relevant in this week of my trying and doing and such. Friedman gives a nice self evaluation checklist that seemed to hit the nail right on the head, so if you’re like me and have occasional bouts of wondering if you should throw in the towel (I did that once. Thank goodness I have friends who are smarter than me), check out her evaluation. The kindest piece of advice of course comes at the end:

…I suggested that it might be nice if someone could tell us if we’re wasting our time trying to get traditionally published.

Here’s a little piece of hope: If your immediate thought was, I couldn’t stop writing even if someone told me to give up, then you’re much closer to publication than someone who is easily discouraged.

I can say that despite today’s rejection slip in my inbox, I’m not at the embittered, poor-me state. Not yet. I recognize still that in order to be published, you have to have actually written and submitted enough to warrant those random feelings of “the world is against me.” Despite my unchequed ego, I am very much still in the “needs to write more and try harder” phase.

Check out Jane’s column here. Enjoy!

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