Prince of Fools (The Red Queen's War #1) by Mark Lawrence - Book Review

Write on: Tue, 07 Jul 2020 by  in Archive Read 6113



Perhaps more than any other author I am currently invested in, books from Mark Lawrence seem to fall on a wide scale. At one end, there is Prince of Thorns, headed by the notorious Jorg Ancrath, one of the most divisive fantasy protagonists in recent years. I didn’t like it. 

At the other end, there is Red Sister and Grey Sister, headed by the magnificent Nona Grey. Her character. Her story. Her world. I liked them a lot.

Prince of Fools has ended up more towards the direction of the former.

Usually when I sit back and reflect on a book, and the experience I had with it, there are a couple of aspects that automatically stand out as key positives. With this book however, there is nothing that has left a song and dance in my memory. All the ingredients are there, and they are all okay, and the finished product is okay. Like a vanilla sponge.

Prince Jalan, as our main protagonist, does a decent job in anchoring the tale. Lawrence depicts him as the lovable rogue, a character arc that I often have trouble warming to, but there is no doubt that Jalan remains consistent to his character throughout. I have to praise this. Jalan is a coward. He is a cad. But he knows this, and doesn’t pretend to be anything else. There is growth to him, as by the end he does break from his self-bestowed mindset and demonstrates the heroism he could possess, if he so chose to.

His companion throughout the story is Snorri, the great northern Viking who provides the balance to Jalan in a great many ways. Where Jalan drifts, Snorri is focused on what he wants to achieve. Where Jalan schemes, Snorri beheads. Their dynamic reminded me a little of Locke Lamora and Jean Tannen, one of my favourite book friendships out there. There is little in the way of memorable side characters, and so the relationship between Jalan and Snorri needed to work for the story to have any chance, and on the whole, it worked.

The story was paced well. As a first instalment it doesn’t get bogged down in swathes of world-building and names and history, and Lawrence is a talented writer. Written from the first-person perspective presents the story through Jalan’s eyes. We are treated to his witticisms and jealousy, and he has an engaging and consistent voice. 

The plot however, for what it was, fell flat. Again, this was not down to the author misfiring. It is a journey story, a quest, and doesn’t pretend to be anything else. There are the expected episodic encounters throughout at the various towns and taverns Jalan and Snorri pass through, but none were particularly thrilling, and few had action which contributed to or provided answers for the main plot thread. From reading other reviews, these stops appear more geared to paying homage to the author’s previous works and characters, which is fine. It’s fine. 

I didn’t feel much connection to the magic system. Granted, it doesn’t play a major role in the story, but the aspects that were presented were a bit too on the nose. Light and dark. Healing and taint. I was hoping for more.

The same goes with the world-building. Jalan and Snorri travel along what is, to all intents and purposes, the entire length of Europe. And while I did find the concept of a world essentially the same as Earth within a fantasy book intriguing, the actual towns and locations were run-of-the-mill fantasy bread and butter, with little of note to define them. 

The end result is one of contentment, and little more. If you’re after a fairly straightforward read with two likeable characters and many cold nights out in the wilderness, you will probably enjoy this. I was simply hoping for more (perhaps because of the high standards Lawrence has since set with his more recent works) and as such, I won’t be rushing to read The Liar’s Key.

Last modified on Thursday, 16 December 2021 15:52

Mark is an avid reader and writer of fantasy. He enjoys playing poker and finding pound coins down the back of the sofa. His favourite authors are Peter .V. Brett and Robin Hobb. He is currently writing the first in a four-part epic fantasy series and he has an irrational fear of balloons.

You can find him on Twitter @MarkParker01690.