Wednesday, September 11, 2013

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

Synopsis per Goodreads:
When he was nine, he watched as his mother and brother were killed before him.  At thirteen, he led a band of bloodthirsty thugs.  By fifteen, he intends to be king...

It's time for Prince Honorous Jorg Ancrath to return to the castle he turned his back on, to take what's rightfully his.  Since the day he hung pinned on the thorns of a briar patch and watched Count Renar's men slaughter his mother and younger brother, Jorg has been driven to vent his rage.  Life and death are no more than a game to him -- and he has nothing left to lose.  But treachery awaits him in his father's castle.  Treachery and dark magic.  No matter how fierce his will, can one young man conquer enemies with power beyond his imagining?

Starting with how I would normally end one of these posts; I really enjoyed this book.  In Goodreads speak I rated the book four stars ("really liked it").  I am greatly looking forward to continuing Jorg's saga.

Now to tackle the big heffalump in the room.  You cannot get through more than a few reviews before finding a complaint about the sexual violence and the "bad" protagonist.  Obviously these people who complain mustn't read Martin's Song of Ice and Fire series (or does that no longer count because of its mainstream popularity?).  The largest complaint seems to be the nonchalance of Jorg as he and his crew discuss and perpetrate rape and murder.  Murder is discussed in some detail, but there is no "on-camera" rape that takes place.  Not that I am condoning the violence (sexual or otherwise), but it is not gratuitous and serves a role in character development.  Jorg is a broken individual leading a team of miscreants on a voyage for personal revenge and global domination.  The journey is not for the faint of heart.

This is not the first novel to tell the story of a man driven to extremes to exact revenge on another, nor will it be the last (I'm a sucker for revenge stories).  And why must these extremes be wholesome?  The impetus to Jorg's descent to darkness, that which leads him on his quest for vengeance, is vile, gruesome and described in such detail that one can't help but feel some semblance of sympathy for the character.

When discussing whether not a character is relatable I always fall back on The Magicians by Lev Grossman.  The Magicians is the story of Quentin Coldwater, a high school student who enters an exclusive college of magic.  Quentin is a spoiled brat of a child with NO redeeming qualities given throughout the novel.  Even though he never escalates to rape and murder as our younger Jorg does in The Prince of Thorns, Quentin has no motivation behind his behavior.  He is just an unlikable tool.  Jorg is hurt physically and emotionally, is used, is betrayed, and is forced to act beyond his years.  Regardless of how bad the character is acting, you learn to understand him, and because of that, I have no problem with following along and rooting for the anti-hero.

The world-building was interesting.  The Broken Empire exists in a world that is so far beyond post-apocalyptic that it has cycled back to medieval.  As such, the arms, travel, and general feel is that of a typical medieval fantasy, but behind the curtain is the skeleton of modern times.  Little development is given to the understanding of who "we" were, but that is something that perhaps will play a larger role in future books of the series (don't tell me if you know - I would also be ok with Lawrence pulling a Scott Lynch and not giving any concrete detail as to how the world came to be as it is).  Twists this unique make me like a book more, even if it doesn't play a large part.



  1. I wanted the badness level to reach the TOP. MORE badness.

  2. The nonchalant discussion of rape did make me uncomfortable, but it was, admittedly, very in-character for all involved. And I know the difference between characters talking about rape and the idea that the author condones rape (I wonder how many people have tried to claim that...). It may not have made for the most comfortable reading, and I doubt it ever will, but I can't deny that it was a damn good book nevertheless.

    1. That always annoys me (when people claim the author condones something that a character does). I'm sure George RR Martin has seen his share of criticisms in this regard.

  3. Thank you. You get what Lawrence set out to achieve with this novel.

    1. People are always clamoring for flawed characters, but when they get one that's flawed in a way that's not socially acceptable, well, then that author must be wrong. Characters are just supposed to have big noses or a stutter or something, right? Le sigh.

  4. Nice review, but I'm sad to say I didn't enjoy this one as much as you did =(

    Without all the sex and violence, who would Jorg be though? Definitely not the character he is - who is meant to be despicable and shocking. Honestly, with all the fuss made over it I thought some scenes were going to be REALLY graphic.

    I've read the Magicians and really enjoyed that one. I don't remember Quentin's personality too much, which says it all really =P I just remember how cool the school seemed, as well as the mysterious force that appeared.