Prince of Fools by Mark Lawrence
|Book Name:||Prince of Fools|
|Formatt:||Hardback / Ebook|
|Release Date:||June 2014 (out now!)|
As with most of my reviews, this post contains spoilers, but for no more than the first 1/4 of the book. Because so many reviews of this book are out there I wanted to do a bit more in-depth as to what you can expect.
Jalan has never had to think about anybody but himself. Grandson of perhaps the most feared, dangerous woman of all the Broken Empire things have always come easy to him. He has coin to gamble with, women to fumble with, and plenty of booze when he needs a break from either of those. Basically, Jalan is what Jorg (the protagonist from Mark Lawrence’s last series, The Broken Empire) could have been should he not have been forced to witness the murder of his mother and brother; the tragic event that instilled in him a hatred of the world and a ruthless obsession to pay it back.
When we first meet Jalan he is fleeing the older brother of a young woman he has been having a bit too much fun with. Having failed to knock the older brother out with a blow from behind, Jalan is now being chased. Luckily, Jal is a good runner (having been chased a good few times before) and eventually reaches his Grandmother’s castle where he knows he is safe: no one is foolish enough to bother him whilst he is there. He is a prince after all.
Before long, Jal is summoned to his Grandmother’s side along with the rest of her children’s children. They all line up to hear what she has summoned them for, but Jal’s mind begins to wonder; he is so tired and so late that he doesn’t really understand what is going on… it isn’t until a group of ‘witnesses’ are brought in that he begins to care either. One of the witnesses to whatever has happened is huge and would make the perfect ‘fighter’ for Jal to enter into the fight pits and win some money. The fighter introduces himself as Snorri ver Snagason and explains that he is from the lands deep within the bitter ice. He tells everyone in the room that he has seen the dead walking and giants by their side – the products of The Dead King.
Those who have read Prince of Thorns and its sequels will be familiar with ‘The Dead King’ and know that none of his ambitions are good for any living, breathing person within the Broken Empire. Whereas The Dead King is a force in the background of the original Broken Empire novels, much as Jorg is a force in the background of these ones, we will see much more of him and his minions in this series. Fear not though, Jorg fans, Jorg is still alive and kicking in the world this first novel in the The Red Queen’s War is set. In fact, our protagonist is even set to dual him at one point (and is confident that he will win seeing as last he knew the ‘little boy’ was just that… a ‘little boy’).
From this point, the novel leads us to believe that this is going to be a tale of Jal being forced to join hissiblings in defending the realm against Jorg and this Dead King. Jal isn’t too worried, he doesn’t fear Jorg and the Dead King stuff sounds like rubbish. As with most stereotypical young men, Jal’s attitude is part ‘it will all blow over’, part ‘I will deal with it tomorrow’. The latest distraction from having to think about getting involved in any kind of war is his Father’s periodic Opera. All of the city’s high flyers, including most of his family, will be there. Jal is in the middle of scoping prospective female partners and ducking people he owes money when he notices something is wrong.
Purely by accident Jal then spots ‘The Silent Sister’, a strange woman who has sat by his Grandmother’s side for as long as anyone can remember, from a window. Jalan has always feared this woman. Very few other people have been able to see her – Jal is one of the unfortunate few who has to suffer her grotesque, creepy appearance. She is not a spirit, but something about Jal allows him to see her when others can not. He assumes that it is her advice, guidance and possibly magic that is responsible for keeping his Grandmother as feared and powerful as she is. What Jal sees is the Silent Sister casting a spell on the building. He knows it can’t be anything good so dives from the window before whatever voodoo she is playing with can affect him…
Jal begins to run, but quickly realises he hasn’t got away without consequence. Something is following him and when he bumps into the midst-escape Snorri the two are struck by a spell. It is a spell that binds the two together and means that they cannot separate. Snorri being twice Jal’s size and unwilling to do anything but head for home means that Jal is at his mercy… he is to follow Snorri home where he has his own mission: to get revenge on those who harmed his family.
This is where the story’s dynamic really begins. Jalan and Snori sort-of fulfil the roles in the popular ‘buddy story’ style that was done so well by authors such as Michael J. Sullivan. In these type stories, usually one character is calculated and clever but weak whilst the other is brave and strong, but rash and stupid. Mark doesn’t go quite as black and white as this: Snorri is fairly intelligent and cultured for a Viking, whereas Jalan is rather reckless for a prince. It is, perhaps, this clash with our expectations and break away from the norm dynamic that makes the novel so interesting: Jalan is a prince so reckless and hopeless that he is having to learn his lessons on life from a Viking.
How does the story stand up against Prince of Thorns? Well, Prince of Thorns was a character study set in a fantasy world; Prince of Fools is a fantasy tale in the ‘chosen-one’ style. Readers will not have to feel guilty about liking Jal as they did Jorg, he may be a bit of a rogue, but he has never killed someone and wouldn’t take any pleasure in doing so. Although the story that follows is dark and there are moments that will bring about a sense of discomfort in some readers, the fact our first person narrator is not a cold, heartless killer without morals means that these moments are seen through the eyes of someone as genuinely shocked and as disgusted as we are. The result is that we don’t experience the same kind of uneasiness as our morals clash with our intrigue, enjoyment as in the earlier series and makes the read a much more comfortable one – as already discussed. It’s not just that though, the buddy dynamic has plenty of genuinely funny moments that arise from the huge contrast of the two characters as opposed to relying on Jorg’s charisma and one-liners to give tragic events a humerous twist. The plot rockets along, far faster than any of Mark’s previous novels too and the various landscapes we explore and enemies we run into get far more attention (a mild complaint some bloggers had with previous books).
The result of all this is a book that might not stand out from the crowd as much as Mark Lawrence’s first series (that truly did send ripples through blogging circles at the time it was released; and earn praise as one of the most important fantasy titles of the decade), but slots it into exactly the spot on the shelf that the masses are looking. Prince of Fools is gritty, it is funny, it features incredible prose and is full of morally ambiguous characters. In Prince of Fools Mark Lawrence has written a book that should appeal to the masses in a way that Prince of Thorns simply could not have (for otherwise it would have been less of a book).
I’m very interested to see how this series does. My personal opinion is that although it is more suited for a mass audience it will get slightly less attention than Prince of Thorns because not so many people will be picking it up to ‘see what all the fuss is about’. I think, though, that this will result in better ratings for the book. Additionally, Mark’s recent win of the David Gemmell Legend Award and ever-growing Social Media should ensure sales stay strong with this highly impressive new series too.
The ‘I don’t have time to read all that’ version:
Prince of Fools is a book that fantasy readers of 2014 will feel more than comfortable with. It does what great fantasy novels of today do: takes our favourite elements of Tolkien (the quest, the journey, the scenery, the imaginary fiends and friend/foe characters) and merges them with our favourite elements of what modern readers look for in a novel of any genre (dark plots, morally ambiguous characters, gruesome and realistic deaths, humour and a fast pace). As a result, it sits as a fine example of where the genre sits right now. Although I feel some readers – especially the ones who enjoyed Mark’s pushing of boundaries – will be disappointed with the author not forcing them to once again re-calibrate their moral compass, the vast majority will appreciate a quicker, lighter, more enjoyable read. Those who struggled to morally stomach Prince of Thorns, especially, will be in for a treat should they be brave enough to give Lawrence another shot and pick up Prince of Fools.