Prince of Thorns is the first novel by Mark Lawrence and the first in a projected trilogy. If you like your fantasy dark and brutal, but with a sympathetic antihero, it’s definitely a book for you.
This is the story of Prince Honorious Jorg Ancrath. When he was 10, he saw his brother brutally killed by the men of Duke Renar, along with his mother, who was raped first. Jorg himself had been thrown into a patch of hook thorns, where he remained unnoticed (it was dark) until some of his father’s men found him the next day. Jorg, however, was aware of everything that went on around him.
The hook thorns latched into his flesh and held on. This book has a similar effect. It gets inside your head and doesn’t let go easily.
Instead of seeking revenge, his father the king makes a deal with the Duke Renar for trade concessions. Upon learning this, Jorg soon leaves home after he recovered, freeing a group of deadly prisoners and rising to become their captain.
He sets out for revenge, but along the way, for reasons that only become clear near the end of the book, Jorg sets his sights on pillage. Now he’s set his sights on home. He’s coming to claim what is rightfully his.
It won’t be as easy as he thinks. His father has taken a new (and young) bride, who is pregnant with a new heir. And there are subtle forces at work intent on seeing Jorg fail, forces of which Jorg is unaware.
Like I said, this is a dark book, and the violence is brutal and bloody. Jorg appears to be more than a little crazy. Keep in mind that not everything is as it appears. Lawrence does a great job of letting us inside Jorg’s head. The book, after all, is told in first person, meaning it’s Jorg’s voice we hear. And a wonderfully hard-bitten voice it is, full of pain and rage and cynicism. Lawrence balances the brutality with a compelling voice and he never lets the violence sink down to the level of gratuitous violence for its own sake. While Jorg may at times revel in the crimes he commits, Lawrence never does. All through the story there is the voice of conscience and good speaking. Sometimes it only in a soft whisper, but it’s there.
The setting is also intriguing. On the surface, it appears to be your typical medieval fantasy world. But the more you read, the more you realize that’s not actually the case. Rather than spoil some of the surprises, I’ll just say that you should pay close attention to any references to the Builders, especially if Jorg is discussing the things they built. It puts a whole new spin on things when you realize what he’s actually talking about.
This novel is a finalist for the David Gemmell Morningstar Award for Best Fantasy Debut. It’s easy to understand why. I can certainly understand why Prince of Thorns made the final ballot, and I think it will be a strong contender. Regardless of which book wins, this is an outstanding debut. If you haven’t read it, check it out.