Unless you live under a rock, you know that Mark Lawrence is one of the best fantasy writers out there, in this great, big world of ours. I have not read his books in order. The Book of the Ancestor was the first series I read by Lawrence, and was instantly hooked. So here I am, reading his debut, Prince of Thorns. And I can tell you, Lawrence has been one of the best since his first book.
Prince of Thorns is not an easy read. What I mean is, there is lots of death, and blood, and immorality, and chaos, and more death. So basically, right up my alley. So unless you like madness and mayhem, this might not be for you. But if you like in-depth characters, a strong main character with a distinct voice, and just straight-up excellent writing, you will devour this one like I did.
It follows the story of young Jorg. Now, Jorg is not a "good guy." He is, in fact, quite terrible. You either love him or hate him. Or, perhaps more accurately, love to hate him. The book opens with murder, a reference to rape in a casual way, and a young protagonist who has somehow come to lead a ragtag band of murderous scum. The fact of Jorg's youth and his brutality is a bit jarring. The immediate question I had was "Why? Why is he like this?" The answer was pretty quickly answered, and the dark, traumatic past Jorg had to endure makes him slightly more relatable. I do mean "slightly." Jorg is an ass, simply put, and a killer, at that.
Jorg seemed to flow from one despicable act to another. I'm pretty sure even he didn't know what his real motivation was or why he did what he did. He's a young man of passion and, that passion flowed in an unfortunate direction. It seemed that no matter what he did, the act was selfish, meaningless, and borne from a traumatic past that he couldn't shake. The genius of the whole thing is that Jorg was just so interesting. There are motivations of revenge - revenge for the wrongs done him. And while this can make him a bit redeeming, it doesn't excuse his actions. And Lawrence doesn't even try to excuse him.
The world itself is complex and interesting. Readers will recognize it, since quite a few of Lawrence's later works are set in the same world. There are glimmers of some sort of computer intelligence, and references to real-world religion (mainly Catholicism), and phrases and words from our world. It's a type of dystopian earth, yet reads like dark fantasy. I was so here for it.
The book is a bit light on magic, for reasons mentioned above. But there is dark magic aplenty, with ghosts, and creepy things, and monsters. However, I would have liked a bit more magic. But that is personal preference.
All in all, Prince of Thorns is a phenomenal debut, and it was a fascinating read, for sure. I rather liked that I didn't read it until I had gotten through some of Lawrence's later works. It made the experience more rich, I think, like learning the back history of your favorite band or TV show, or seeing your favorite artists' earlier paintings.
4.5/5 stars. Fans of dark fantasy, rich worlds, complex characters, and fast-paced plots will like this one.