Have you ever thought to yourself, “Man, this book is good, but I wish the hero wasn’t so good and kind. Couldn’t he be more vicious, cruel, and out for bloody, terrible vengeance at the cost of as many innocent lives as possible?”
If so, please stay at least forty feet away from me at all times. Also you might enjoy this book.
When he was nine, he watched as his mother and brother were killed before him. At thirteen, he led a band of bloodthirsty thugs. By fifteen, he intends to be king…
It’s time for Prince Honorous Jorg Ancrath to return to the castle he turned his back on, to take what’s rightfully his. Since the day he hung pinned on the thorns of a briar patch and watched Count Renar’s men slaughter his mother and young brother, Jorg has been driven to vent his rage. Life and death are no more than a game to him—and he has nothing left to lose.
But treachery awaits him in his father’s castle. Treachery and dark magic. No matter how fierce his will, can one young man conquer enemies with power beyond his imagining?
I admit it: revenge stories are one of my biggest guilty pleasures.
Of course, realistically, revenge is a terrible, all-consuming goal that more often than not leads to nothing but more misery and bloodshed. But in fiction, it’s different. There’s something so cathartic about the idea that you can seek your own justice against those who have irreparably wronged you.
Thus, I took a look at Prince of Thorns, the first book in Mark Lawrence’s Broken Empire trilogy: a book that promised to be a dark and bloody tale of power and revenge.
And man does Lawrence deliver.
I’m normally not one for angsty violence at the best of times. Particularly angsty violence that focuses around an unrepentant teenage sociopath who considers cold blooded murder to be the first and only necessary solution to his problems. Jorg Ancrath is introduced to the reader having just pillaged and plundered (among other terrible things) a poor little village without a shred of remorse, or even the vaguest hint of it being a necessary evil for his goals: to put it mildly, making me feel sympathy for this main character feels like an almost impossible task from page one.
It can certainly be done. A likeable protagonist is not absolutely necessary for a reader to enjoy a story, and there is a lot to be said about watching an unlikable character learn and grow into a better person. But Jorg never changes, he never seems to want to change at all, and he absolutely revels in the bloody, brutal nature of his world.
It feels a little bit like Game of Thrones at first glance, in that goodness and honourable conduct are rarely what win the day when up against treachery and deviousness. But unlike Game of Thrones there is no softness in the world, or good men trying to do their best in a harsh, unforgiving world. With the exception of perhaps a few minor characters, the majority of the people we encounter are just as brutal and bloody as Jorg himself, and most are just as willing to hurt anyone who gets in their way.
I can’t completely blame Jorg for his mindset, however. The world Lawrence creates is one absolutely filled to the brim with struggle, violence, and unimaginable cruelty that crushes any hope out of its citizens from birth. Lawrence’s excellent, clean prose makes it clear that gentleness cannot survive in the Broken Empire; even the elements of nature are embodied with deadly intent, taking and taking and taking without remorse.
But for all of Jorg’s sadistic nature, there is something absolutely fascinating about him. I would never want to be his friend, I would never want to know him at all – not unless I suddenly had the desperate urge to have a dagger shoved neatly into my spine – but there’s undeniably something about him that makes me want keep reading, regardless of his terrible first impression and the terrible second, third, and tenth impressions he makes thereafter.
Jorg is a spoiled, arrogant little shit who deserves to have the snot beaten out of him at every opportunity. But at the same time, he’s capable and intelligent, and more than a little bit scarred and broken from the terrible things this world has heaped upon him. He’s determined, that’s unmistakable, and he’s clever. Very clever, and he knows it. His confidence shines through at every moment, even when it could get him killed. Especially when it could get him killed. For all his confidence and intelligence he is still only a kid, trying desperately to hold his own against unimaginable, often impossible, odds.
It even makes me want to root for him. Just a little bit.
Despite the darkness and the general terrible state of Jorg’s world – and Jorg himself – I still found myself enjoying the story for the most part. There’s enough drama, magic, mystery, and suspense to keep most readers entertained – provided you can look past the black morality of just about every character with a name – with an interesting worldbuilding element that isn’t immediately obvious, but definitely provides a peculiar element to the setting.
As the first book in the Broken Empire trilogy, Prince of Thorns definitely serves its purpose introducing the reader to the world and setting the story up for the rest of the series. I’ll be checking out what happens next to Jorg and his band, and part of me does hope they succeed.
I’ll just have to read something very, very happy afterwards.
Final Thoughts: A compelling story with some clever twists and subversions, but too much focus is put on being dark and shocking for my taste. That said, anyone who likes Grimdark fantasy, or revenge stories in general, will probably enjoy this book!
On to the next chapter!