Book Review: Prince of Thorns
When I picked up this book, I thought for sure I'd whiz through it in a few days. It's not very long, and I'm a rather fast reader.
Then I ground to a halt within the first few chapters.
I struggled forward, unsure if I even wanted to finish the book after confronting the horrors in the early chapters and feeling 100% uninterested in Jorg, the main character. I persevered, mainly because I don't like abandoning books, and it did eventually regain my interest - enough that I bought the sequel, though I'm in no hurry to read it. To sum, this is going to be a mixed review.
Prince of Thorns follow Jorg Ancrath, prince on the run with a band of thieves and murderers. After encountering a priest sent by his father, Jorg decides to return home and reclaim his place - only to find that his father has a new wife, who's expecting, and a new counselor, who doesn't like him much. The king refuses to name Jorg his heir unless Jorg defeats a neighboring kingdom, so Jorg sets out to do just that despite not enough men and resources. He's determined to be king, so he'll find a way.
The book rests on Jorg, since it's written in first person, and this is my first area of conflict. Jorg is supposed to be 13 at the novel's start, yet his actions are not believable for a child of that age, even a sociopathic child. For an 18-year-old, sure, I'd buy it. Maybe even a 16-year-old. But not at 13. He grew on me as the novel progressed, and the forces swirling around him can take some credit for what he does and how he does it, but the sheer suspension of disbelief required kept throwing me out of the novel.
I'm not going to cover what happens in those first few chapters, except to say this: I like dark fantasy. I read a lot of it. I don't mind death, gray characters, blah blah. But the first chapters of Prince of Thorns made me almost quit the book, they turned my stomach so much. If you like that, more power to you, but the wanton destruction (murder and rape featuring prominently) was a bit much for me.
This lessens as you go on, because Jorg gains a sense of purpose. While the early chapters have an aimlessness to them for Jorg, the later ones are laser-focused on a very specific goal - so even when the body count and horrors rack up, it at least feels like it's happening for a reason.
On the flip side of this coin, I do love the setting. It doesn't take long to realize that this is our world, a post-apocalyptic Europe set after a nuclear holocaust, where so many people died so close together that they cracked the boundary between life and death. They call us the Builders, and modern day technology litters the earth (and figures prominently in the plot). It's a nice balance of science and magic, and these sections of the book, which delve into the past and what happened on the Day of a Thousand Suns, were some of the most enjoyable for me.
Lawrence's prose is solid too, which helps. He's writing in Jorg's voice, and he makes that voice distinct and rich. Jorg never quite becomes likeable, but by the end, it's hard not to root for him. He's the underdog, all the cards stacked against him, and yet he overcomes those impossible odds. Plus his father is an ass. So there's that too.
As I said above, I ended up buying the sequel, though it's pretty far down on my to-read list. I do want to learn what eventually becomes of Jorg (and it seems like the sequel ages him, which will make suspension of disbelief easier). This was a good enough read to justify the price, though not anything I'm going to be raving about in the streets.