Prince of Thorns (2011) by Mark Lawrence Review
Prince of Thorns follows Jorg Ancrath. From being a privileged royal child, raised by a loving mother, Jorg has become the Prince of Thorns, a charming, immoral boy leading a grim band of outlaws in a series of raids. The world is in chaos: atrocities rampage everywhere, skies darken the broken empire, nightmares haunt burnt villages, and all that Jorg wants in his hands is his inheritance and the head of the man who murdered his mother years ago.
The core of the book is a pretty didactic exploration of revenge; it presents the concept of cold-handed vengeance as truth without fully setting up a framework where it all makes sense. There isn’t much world building to begin with, so the ulterior motives of certain characters wanting to kill is still hazy in the grander scheme of things. It would’ve been better to see more politics in this game they’re playing as none of the characters in Prince of Thorns are remotely sympathetic so it’s hard to take sides.
Still, despite the lack of politics and world development, the read emerges as a solid bit of entertainment. The way Lawrence writes Jorg and his extreme thirst to kill is so expertly realized that it’s easy enough to tune out the lack of world building to just enjoy the book as a fun, gritty, and violent piece of fantasy. It’s blissfully short, clocking in at around 300 pages, and never spends its time with red herrings that deter it from the anti-hero’s main goal: retaliation. As a fantasy though, it could’ve been more imaginative with its world. The phrase “a game of thrones” was actually used to describe the reprisals and conflicts a couple of times, and that irritated me quite a bit.
Prince of Thorns can still be admired just for its guts. It is never too ambitious, the story just a small-scale revenge story. Although things don’t quite add up to something entirely cohesive, the conviction of the book is there. It wanted a tale of blood and gore, and that’s what the readers got. If the book had managed to put proper fantasy elements inside, this would’ve been an easy recommendation. As it is, the book often feels clumsy and didactic, but it doesn’t fail to entertain.