“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.
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