'The thorns taught me the game.
They let me understand what all those grim and serious men who’ve fought the Hundred War have yet to learn. You can only win the game when you understand that it is a game. Let a man play chess, and tell him that every pawn is his friend. Let him think both bishops holy. Let him remember happy days in the shadows of his castles. Let him love his queen. Watch him lose them all. '
Mark Lawrence's bloody début The Prince of Thorns is the opening novel in the 'Broken Empire' trilogy. Set in the 'Broken Kingdom' a land governed by Knights, Lords, Kings and an Emperor, a brutal land that has risen from the ashes of an atomic war that pushed mankind to the edge of extinction.
Lawrence follows the story of Jorg, a young Prince of the kingdom of Ancrath whose childhood is cruelly ended when his mother and elder brother are murdered before his eyes. His indirect path to seek vengeance is the main driving force of the narrative. Jorg unburdens himself of his morality so that he can do what others cannot and live without fear. Jorg uses all the tools he has at his disposal: his few friends, his road-brothers, and his youth to gain the advantage in seemingly impossible situations. It is Jorg's age that makes his violent acts disturbing to a modern reader, in a society where we strive to protect our children from the realities of life it is shocking that a child is exposed to, and flourishes, in this extremely violent society.
The reader is taken on Jorg's path of vengeance by Jorg himself as the story is written as a first person narrative. By writing the story in the first person, Lawrence gives the reader a sense that the land of the 'Broken Kingdom' is richly steeped in history, politics and intrigue without getting the reader lost in the detail. If details don't concern Jorg they don't concern the reader. This leaves the reader with tantalising questions about the land, its people and its history that will, hopefully, be answered in later books. I personally would have preferred more description of the areas and people as I felt that the story moved from one setting to another very quickly, which at times left me feeling slightly alienated.
Overall, I enjoyed The Prince of Thorns, the lack of descriptive text left me feeling like I wasn't connecting with the supporting characters which, I suppose, was Lawrence's intention as we are seeing the story from this prospective Jorg, who has learnt at a young age to cut out all of his emotions.
If you want a fast-paced post-apocalyptic-medieval-fantasy novel then this is definitely worth a look. It's a good read but probably not a novel that I would re-read anytime soon and because of that I will give it 3/5 Jester's cap and bells.