There are two reasons I picked this book up when I joined my library last month. One, I received Mark Lawrence’s newest novel, Red Sister in the February Illumicrate and I’d never read one of his books before so I decided to start at the beginning. Sensible, no?
And two, Cait @ Paper Fury absolutely raves about this series, and her word is gospel (except on Sarah J. Maas, we’ll agree to disagree, Cait), so I knew I had to pick it up as soon as I saw it on the shelf.
TL;DR a thirteen year old prince cuts a bloody swathe across a medieval-style region with the ultimate aim of winning the Hundred War and ruling the entire realm. It’s not for the faint of heart, but if you love a whole lot of stabbing and swearing, and a conspicuous lack of morals, then you’ll love this.
Prince of Thorns is set in a Game of Thrones style, faux-medieval fantasy world. I would like to say that if you love the A Song of Ice and Fire series you’ll like this, but Lawrence uses the phrase “the game of thrones” several times throughout the book, and I can imagine that annoying big ASOIAF fans – I only watch the TV show and still found it a bit jarring. There are similarities between the plots and the worlds in both series, but you can find similarities anywhere if you try hard enough – it certainly didn’t stop me enjoying Prince of Thorns. There are one or two MAJOR differences, but I won’t spoil them for you!
Honorous Jorg Ancrath, the eponymous Prince of Thorns, is a thirteen year old prince from one of the hundred separate kingdoms spread across the realm. He’s been through a lot in his short years, has Jorg. For the past four years he’s been burning down villages and killing anyone who crosses his path, helped by his band of road brothers, a motley crew of criminals, outcasts and downright psychopaths.
“There is no evil, Makin,” I said. “There’s the love of things, power, comfort, sex, and there’s what men are willing to do to satisfy those lusts.”
He’s been on the hunt for Count Renar, the man who’s responsible for killing his mother and brother, and leaving Jorg for dead in a poisonous hook-briar bush (hence Prince of Thorns). He hasn’t actually caught up to Count Renar yet, for one reason and another (no spoilers), but he decides to head back home to his father, the King of Ancrath, who he hasn’t seen or spoken to since leaving at age nine.
There’s no love lost between Jorg and his dad, who sent his Captain of the Guard after Jorg four years ago. Instead of bringing Jorg home, Sir Makin joined Jorg’s rabble, ostensibly to keep an eye on the boy and make sure nothing untoward happened to him, but the friendship between Jorg and Makin is one of my favourite things about the book. The Road Brothers are a fascinating bunch, each with their own backstory, motivations, and collection of disturbing personality traits and skills.
“Most men have at least one redeeming feature. Finding one for Brother Rike requires a stretch. Is ‘big’ a redeeming feature?”
There is also a massive plot twist about two thirds into the book that I did not see coming! If you know what I’m talking about tell me in the comments whether you guessed it or not – there are hints if you’re paying attention, but it definitely took me by surprise!
There is a magical element to the story, on our journey we stumble across dream-witches, necromancers and a tribe of mutant creatures with interesting abilities.
“I’ll tell you now. That silence almost beat me. It’s the silence that scares me. It’s the blank page on which I can write my own fears. The spirits of the dead have nothing on it. The dead one tried to show me hell, but it was a pale imitation of the horror I can paint on the darkness in a quiet moment.”
The book is written in first person, so we get a really deep insight into Jorg’s mind, which is part terrifying (especially when you remember he’s thirteen) and part hilarious because he’s full of acerbic wit. He’s one of the most interesting characters I’ve come across in ages, absolutely devious and very intelligent – he often quotes philosophers thanks to his royal education, and his strategic and tactical skill is far beyond anything a normal teenage boy would be able to manage.
At the end of the book there’s an excerpt from book two, King of Thorns, and having glanced quickly at it I think there’s a four year time jump, so it’ll be interesting to see how Jorg changes as he grows up.
“Blood is on these hands, these ink-stained hands, but I don’t feel the sin. I think maybe we die every day. Maybe we’re born new each dawn, a little changed, a little further on our own road. When enough days stand between you and the person you were, you’re strangers. Maybe that’s what growing up is. Maybe I have grown up.”
My only negative comments are related to Jorg’s age, I’m not sure if Lawrence did it to make Jorg’s actions and behaviour even more shocking, but some of the things he says and does I would expect more from a sixteen year old, or even older. If he’d started Prince of Thorns at sixteen, it might have removed the need for such a big time jump between books one and two, but without reading King of Thorns I can’t say whether the time that has passed is crucial to the story. (I’ve just read Mark Lawrence’s comments on the Goodreads page for King of Thorns and it sounds like he uses a dual timeline to show what has happened in the preceding four years alongside what is happening now, so I guess there’s your answer!)
I gave Prince of Thorns 4 stars because it’s a really gripping, entertaining and dark fantasy novel with a fascinating main character and some fun plot twists, but Jorg’s age feels slightly out of sync to me, and I found the use of the phrase ‘game of thrones’ slightly jarring – like if a character in another book was called Harry Potter! Especially a book from the same genre. I’m sure George R.R. Martin wasn’t the first author to coin that phrase, but he is the most well known.
If those things don’t bother you, definitely pick this one up! I’m excited to get my hands on King of Thorns now, I’m expecting an even better rating as we’ll hopefully get some more character development and world building, which are my favourite things!
Have you read The Broken Empires series? What did you think? Recommend me some similar books in the comments!