Prince of Thorns (The Broken Empire #1) by Mark Lawrence (Mild Spoilers)
Also by this author: Emperor of Thorns
Published by Penguin on 2011-08-02
Genres: Epic, Fantasy
When he was nine, he watched as his mother and brother were killed before him. At thirteen, he led a band of bloodthirsty thugs. By fifteen, he intends to be king… It’s time for Prince Honorous Jorg Ancrath to return to the castle he turned his back on, to take what’s rightfully his. Since the day he hung pinned on the thorns of a briar patch and watched Count Renar’s men slaughter his mother and young brother, Jorg has been driven to vent his rage. Life and death are no more than a game to him—and he has nothing left to lose. But treachery awaits him in his father’s castle. Treachery and dark magic. No matter how fierce his will, can one young man conquer enemies with power beyond his imagining?
This is not quite a spoiler free review. I discuss my reaction to an event early in the book that is often mentioned in reviews.
When I picked this book out, it was before I found the online fantasy community that I now turn to for recommendations and reviews. This is a book that I pretty much just stumbled upon because my library had it available as an ebook. Most of their selection consists of Paranormal Romance and Young Adult and this looked to be neither, so I checked a couple reviews on Amazon and decided to download it.
I’m not sure what I expected, but it was likely not what I got. This was my not first taste of “grimdark” but somehow, it seemed the darkest and most shocking and I absolutely loved it. My reading history was dominated by horror, not fantasy and while this is not classified as horror, it does have the same dark overtones and the feeling that characters are not as safe as you might get in horror books. It had many of the elements of fantasy (that were still new to me) and brought in some of the feelings and tones of the horror books I had always enjoyed. One of the things that really struck me about this is the use of dark humor to make the ‘evil’ in it more palatable. We see Jorg and his band of Brothers do some truly heinous things in the opening. I found it interesting the way it was written, instead of turning me off, I had to keep reading. I really think having the acerbic comments are a huge part of why it works. To me, it was a perfect mix done in a very original way.
Not everyone loves this book, though. I remember seeing some particularly negative reviews on Amazon particularly in regards to a rape scene early in the book. So when I read it, I really was expecting some disturbing and graphic descriptions. That did not happen. At least not in relation to the rape that people were complaining about. But it did give me some food for thought, trying to come up with explanations for the very heated review(s).
I will never try to say that others are not justified in their reactions. They absolutely are. Every reader is different and every reader can have a different reaction and our reactions are our own. I think the issue for some people is just realizing the protagonist’s moral compass (or lack thereof) is so skewed. It’s very rare (at least from the books I’ve read so far) to have your main POV openly, even if off stage, participate in such a hot button issue (crime) as rape. I think what offends some readers is more the fact that it was there and Jorg was very casual about it. It’s just the way he did things. It had no impact on him or his conscious. That can be disturbing. Rape is a horrendous violation and to read about a character, who is casual about it is going to offend some readers.
I can also say that every once in a while (rarely) a book will trigger a very personal reaction from me that taps more into my real life experiences than what was actually in the book. It’s not really fair to the book, but I can say, if it happens, it’s really hard to step back and see the book as it is without drawing on those emotions that it triggered. While I did not have that with this book, it is entirely possible others may have. Or they could just not be used to reading the darker/grittier fantasy novels, or they are just more ‘shockable’ than myself. I suppose there are a variety of reasons. Regardless, it really doesn’t matter. Their reaction to it is what it is and no one should feel the need to take that away or belittle it. But that doesn’t mean that it has to be my reaction either and in this case, it was not. Also the much debated and talked about rape is a terribly small portion of the book and the character.
My initial reaction when I finished was just. “Wow.” And as dark as the book was, and with Jorg, well, being Jorg, I wasn’t sure I could say I “enjoyed” the book just because the connotations that go with the word “enjoy” and the darkness of the book just dont seem to work well together. More time has passed since then and I think perhaps “intriguing” is a better word choice than “enjoyable”, but regardless, it is a story that I was completely absorbed with and one that I know I will continue on. I know that as time has passed and I have become slightly more detached from the story, I will find myself using the word “enjoy” just out of habit (because regardless of word choice, I am a huge fan of the book). As I said before, Jorg is such a unique character, that to have the tale told from his POV really lends a different perspective and tone to this than other books I have read.