Prince of Fools, the first book in The Red Queen’s War trilogy took place within the same world and during the same period of time with Prince of Thorns (Mark Lawrence’s debut surrounding the infamous Jorg Ancrath). The plot followed the journey of Jalan Kendeth and Snorri ver Snagason, both bound together by a cursed spell from the supposedly invisible Silent Sister that cursed them to be infused with Light and Dark magic respectively and now, they can’t be separated too far or have any physical contacts in order to avoid physical pain or maybe even death. Thus began their journey to end their curse together.
Similar to Prince of Thorns, most of the plot in the book revolves simply around them travelling but it was done in a very fun and unexpectedly poignant way at times. You can read this book without reading Broken Empire trilogy first but I must say, reading this after Broken Empire increased my experience significantly. Don’t get me wrong, The Broken Empire is an okay to good trilogy at best imo, I have mixed feelings about it but character appearances from any previous series I read will always fill me with joy, and this goes for any kind of story medium. The experience, knowledge and facts I gained from reading Jorg’s story, made me glued to the page when Jalan and Snorri met with a lot of characters from Prince of Thorns. Jalan’s encounter with Katherine was definitely one of the main highlight of this book for me.
However, the main strength of this book definitely lies within both the main characters unexpected blooming friendship.
Jalan Kendeth is one of the most realistic protagonists in a fantasy books out there. We all want to be heroes, brave in the face of danger but in reality, most of us would probably run and pee our pants shrieking at the top of our lungs. This is Jalan in a nutshell. He’s a coward, womanizer and a drunkard. He’ll run away from every danger he faced and for me, seeing a story done in 1st POV narrative from this kind of main character is a refreshing and unique experience.
“Battles are all about strategy, and strategy pivots on priorities. Since my priorities were Prince Jalan, Prince Jalan, and Prince Jalan, with “looking good” a distant fourth, I took the opportunity to resume running away.”
Snorri on the other hand, is a polar opposite of Jalan. He’s a Norseman, bent on revenge, brave, powerful, wise and virtuous.
“When you become a father, it changes you." Snorri spoke towards the fire’s glow. "You see the world in new ways. Those who are not changed were not properly men to begin with.”
Picture: Snorri ver Snagason hugging his daughter by Pen Astridge
Right from Snorri’s first appearance in a Gladiator kind of fight, I’m already hooked on his character and it continues to do so until the end of the book. His background revelations told in 3rd POV were done greatly and provide depth to both his character and Jalan’s sense of empathy. This is one of the most unlikely starts to a friendship and yet it ended up being one of the best duos I ever read, just from the first book.
One of the major problem I had with the Broken Empire were the fact that the world took place in Earth that made me feel like I wasn’t reading a high fantasy book. I prefer my high fantasy read to be done on a completely new world. This is still the same case because the story took place on the same setting with Broken Empire, Red March being North Italy and Bitter Ice being Northern Norway to say the least. However, it’s more of a minor con for me now because of Snorri’s Viking background. Norse mythology and Vikings cultures are something I’m a sucker for and to see Mark implement it here is something that I didn’t expect at all, in a good way.
In terms of prose, this is the first time that Mark Lawrence’s prose worked greatly for me. Despite the elegance on the prose, reading too much of Broken Empire and Red Sister literally hurt my head, especially when it gets too philosophical. That problem is completely gone here. Jalan’s personality made the narrative fine balance of beautiful, philosophical and fun simplicity.
Overall, Prince of Fools is a fantastic start to a trilogy. It’s better than all my previous experience with all other Mark’s books and I’m hoping the rest of the sequels continue to deliver at least similar or even better quality. If things goes well, who knows? maybe there will be a new addition to my 'favorites' shelf.