Saturday, 27 August 2011

Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence

Before the thorns taught me their sharp lessons and bled weakness from me I had but one brother, and I loved him well. But those days are gone. Now I have many brothers, quick with knife and sword. We ride this broken empire and loot its corpse. They say these are violent times, the end of days when the dead roam and monsters haunt the night. All that's true enough, but there's something worse out there in the dark. Much worse.

There has been much made of the fact that Prince of Thorns features a rapist as the main character, that it is far too dark and bloodthirsty, that it bears great similarity to Joe Abercrombie, that it objectifies women. I would dispute every one of these points. Every single one.

Prince of Thorns features a young boy as the protagonist, someone who offers his band of brothers "a different sort of treasure" to keep them sweet, someone who has raped women but only ever off screen. I've seen far, far worse occurrences of rape in novels - for heavens' sake, Steven Erikson has women raping the bodies of dead soldiers in Memories of Ice. Yes, there is rape - but nothing worse than presented in historical novels that I have read. When you have a marauding band of criminals, there will be raping and pillaging.

It is a dark and bloodthirsty novel, I would agree - but, once again, nothing that hasn't been done far worse before. It is grim at times for sure. However, I would argue that grimy fantasy is still flavour of the month, so Prince of Thorns should prove popular on this point.

Prince of Thorns bears very little similarity to Joe Abercrombie and absolutely none to George R R Martin - I'm surprised it was marketed in the slipstream of A Dance With Dragons. For me, Prince of Thorns shares more with Wolfsangel by M D Lachlan. It is basically the novel that Paul Hoffman of "The Left Hand of God" fame wishes that he had written. There are dreamlike sequences of necromancers (rather than witches, as with Wolfsangel), and there is a relativity with our world (as with The Left Hand of God).

And the woman thing. There ARE female characters in this novel. And they act independently of men. Men do not drive their story. In this respect, it was perfectly satisfactory. You cannot write a novel about a marauding band of brothers and try to include strong women who are the equal of the men; it doesn't fit the tone or the passage of the novel. I can't actually see why people have complained about this fact.

Now that I have refuted these claims, what did I think of the book? Prince of Thorns is readable, but, at the moment, not much more. I would be interested to read a sequel to see whether my personal issue can be addressed.

This issue is that I felt as though I was reading the outline of a novel. There were events in Prince of Thorns, but they felt slight and as though there should have been more involved. I was left dissatisfied by my reading experience because I felt as though Lawrence was fully capable of producing better, but hadn't fleshed out Prince of Thorns enough to achieve this.

With regards to the post-apocalyptic world - well, yay for not being yet another faux Medieval world. But DO MORE WITH IT! The world surrounding Jorg could have been interesting and unique. It could have been like nothing in any other fantasy world so far created. Instead, it felt stale and very, very underdeveloped.

Like I say, Prince of Thorns was readable. I liked certain characters very much, I enjoyed the structure and I would want to see more from Lawrence - but I do want to see a significant improvement on Prince of Thorns. A very tentative yes from me.

1 comment:

  1. the good news is the sequel is supposed to be out end of next year, so you won't have to wait too long to see if the issues are addressed.

    I felt the world was developed enough, especially with the author having to deal with a few [spoilers] that his characters don't really know about. Ok, so that particular [spoiler] has been done before, sort of, but I think Lawrence has something unique going on here.

    I do hope you continue with the series.