Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence – Book Review

“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 and what is left of them lies in my mother’s tomb. Now I have many brothers, quick with knife and sword, and as evil as you please. 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.”

Once a privileged royal child, raised by a loving mother, Jorg Ancrath has become the Prince of Thorns, a charming, immoral boy leading a grim band of outlaws in a series of raids and atrocities. The world is in chaos: violence is rife, nightmares everywhere. Jorg’s bleak past has set him beyond fear of any man, living or dead, but there is still one thing that puts a chill in him. Returning to his father’s castle Jorg must confront horrors from his childhood and carve himself a future with all hands turned against him.

Prince of Thorns is the first book in the new fantasy series Broken Empire by Mark Lawrence. So you’ve read the blurb. I’d also read a lot of reviews on this book before I started, that promised the sun and moon and stars. Unfortunately it failed to deliver.

Clearly I am supposed to be impressed with Jorgy (as he likes to call himself), our villainous protagonist/anti-hero, barely a child of fourteen, who spends much of the book telling us what a villain he is, with his raping and pillaging and murdering.  He left little impression on me, positive or negative, except in any instance where he was mortally wounded and I was pained to discover it didn’t finish him off. Rather than subscribing to the “hauntingly dark and damaged hero” that is the intention, I found myself witnessing a several hundred pages of childish tantrum throwing and false bravado.

Flimsy (if any) world building left me with little reason to care why Jorgy wanted to win the “Hundred War” and unite the Broken Empires. Some insight into the history of the Broken Empires might have engaged me, why they were, firstly, broken, and secondly, need to be united. Jorg’s thirst for vengeance is explained clearly enough, and the image of the briar-hooks is actually reasonably interesting, but unfortunately any real depth to Jorg is left unplumbed. Where he could have been a very interesting character who is either a true sociopath or something struggling with terrible internal conflict, it is neatly glossed over, and we continue to hear how evil, handsome and genius Jorg is, constantly championed by a supporting cast of shallow characters.

Several chapters in the book gave me a faint glimmer of hope, but again rather than pushing Jorg further as a character, he continually reverts into his protective shell.  Short, short chapters keep the pace going strong but cut the real story-telling short. Lawrence could have really developed this dark world (hinting at being post-apocalyptic) and pushed the characters to the limit but takes the safe road throughout, keeping close to the surface with Jorg carrying the entire story in a sharp, short series of incidents streaming towards an abrupt ending.

Yes for all of it’s darkness it lacks guts. It takes no risks, it lacks real depth and left me even more disappointed with a “neatly explained away” ending.

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

Mark Lawrence on Twitter

Mark Lawrence Blog

Mark Lawrence on Goodreads

7 thoughts on “Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence – Book Review”

  1. I strongly disagree with your reading. I found the book to be brilliant, well written and well thought out.

    Unlike Twilight and Harry Potter, Lawrence understands his audience will be above a 3rd grade reading level and doesn’t feel the need to spell things out. If you reread the book closely I think you’ll find the events that shattered what’s now the Broken Empire are a constant factor throughout the book, and all the more compelling for the lack of history. I know that lack of history and then sudden realization made the book much better.

    Jorg is a product of his environment. He’s pretty much a brilliant sociopath. It’s not that he’s evil, he just doesn’t care what it takes to accomplish his objective.

    Satan- Please tell me you haven’t read Twilight. Also, Prince of Thorns is in no way Twilight, which I define as “teenage female masturbatory aid; softcore porn written by a Mormon to encourage no sex before marriage utilizing demigods pretending to be vampires to add a false sense of darkness”

    1. Thanks for your comment Ryan. I’m glad you enjoyed the book. I admit I was ready to put it down after the first three chapters, but as it has such a large fan base I was curious to see it through.
      I don’t think Lawrence was trying to present Jorg as an actual sociopath, although that seems to be the general opinion.
      It’s been short-listed for the Morningstar, be sure to vote for it.

  2. As Olga has stated, there is no world building, the characters are shallow and cliched. If you want to read about a brilliant sociopath, portrayed with attention to psychological detail, read Thomas Harris. These ‘I’m so bad I’m a sociopath’ characters, like Dexter, like Jorgy, are inaccurately drawn.
    In Jorgy’s case it wasn’t even necessary to attempt to write him as a sociopath, his position as a prince in the whole post-apocalyptic medieval milieu (which, I may add sir, has been done like a dragon’s dinner) could easily have been used to justify the character’s wanton acts of rape and murder. Read George R R Martin if you want to see characters where justification of their behavior isn’t even an issue, it is part of the cultural and social fabric.
    Jorgy’s problem is he wants to be as bad as he wants to be, but he is continuously a mirror of what is moral and what is right. He is just a very naughty boy. That’s how he comes across. A sort of post-apocalyptic medieval (yawn) Dennis the Menace. Actually it would have been muchly improved if the character had been called ‘Dennis’ instead of ‘George’.
    Further, the whole thing with the important characters being controlled by groups of necromancers seems to reference an RPG arrangement, something like the kind of D&D crossed with Traveller that spawned Raymond E Feist’s books, with the alluded notion of the character ‘breaking the third wall’, accessing the player and destroying him. If you are going to employ such a gimmick, it should at least be handled explicitly.
    While I support robust criticism, hitting the author with a morningstar, does seem excessive.

  3. haven’t read the book and now not likely too
    but have to say I though the sequel to Silence of the Lambs was lame
    the scene where he feeds the FBI(?) agent, a man’s brain who has crossed to the dark side/ become a zombie/been placed under a spell/lobotomised/controlled by a necromancer/is so in love she flushed her brain down the toilet, or all of the above.
    Was ludicrous

  4. As Olga has stated, there is no world bidliung, the characters are shallow and cliched. If you want to read about a brilliant sociopath, portrayed with attention to psychological detail, read Thomas Harris. These I’m so bad I’m a sociopath’ characters, like Dexter, like Jorgy, are inaccurately drawn.In Jorgy’s case it wasn’t even necessary to attempt to write him as a sociopath, his position as a prince in the whole post-apocalyptic medieval milieu (which, I may add sir, has been done like a dragon’s dinner) could easily have been used to justify the character’s wanton acts of rape and murder. Read George R R Martin if you want to see characters where justification of their behavior isn’t even an issue, it is part of the cultural and social fabric.Jorgy’s problem is he wants to be as bad as he wants to be, but he is continuously a mirror of what is moral and what is right. He is just a very naughty boy. That’s how he comes across. A sort of post-apocalyptic medieval (yawn) Dennis the Menace. Actually it would have been muchly improved if the character had been called Dennis’ instead of George’.Further, the whole thing with the important characters being controlled by groups of necromancers seems to reference an RPG arrangement, something like the kind of D&D crossed with Traveller that spawned Raymond E Feist’s books, with the alluded notion of the character breaking the third wall’, accessing the player and destroying him. If you are going to employ such a gimmick, it should at least be handled explicitly.While I support robust criticism, hitting the author with a morningstar, does seem excessive.

Comments are closed.