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Prince of Thorns  (The Broken Empire)
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166 of 182 people found the following review helpful
on August 3, 2011
All I can say about this book is "wow". Actually, that's a lie; I have a lot more to say. These kind of grim, ultra-harsh fantasies with anti-hero leads are really hard to write well. Getting the right mix of believability and twisted viciousness in the protagonist, while not making the reader totally hate him, is tough. Before reading this, KJ Parker (Fencer trilogy, Scavenger trilogy) was the undisputed king in this area; now Lawrence (the author) joins him as one of the great masters of dark fantasy.

The plot is solid: in a Jack Vance "Dying Earth"-ish future, scores of petty kings and nobles compete to reclaim an empire, while in the shadows magicians and necromancers manipulate and control events for their own agendas. The protagonist, Prince Jorg, has been on the road with the roughest band of killers for four years, forging himself into a weapon after his mother and brother were killed in front of him. Having taken control of this brotherhood of brigands, he decides to return home and attempt to take his birthright, sparking further trials and conquests.

The writing style was very good, the pacing was great, and flashbacks filled in the backstory in nicely digestible pieces. As a note, I'm normally not such a fan of flashbacks, but Lawrence managed to keep them germane, where each one helped further the main storyline, rather than distracting from it. Lawrence, like Parker, really excels in his character portrayal of Jorg, and captures his semi-psychotic nature. I liked the combat writing too; typically fast, vicious, and clever, it avoided pitfalls of unbelievable actions or lengthy, technically complicated duels, while still included more than enough blood and bodies.

Overall a great effort, and possibly the best dark fantasy I've read since the Fencer trilogy. Recommended to anyone that likes a dark fantasy, and particularly to those that like KJ Parker (and vice versa).
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62 of 67 people found the following review helpful
on August 2, 2011
What a wonderfully dark and often humorous trip this books has been!

Prince of Thorns is the story of Honorous Jorg Ancrath as much a prince of thievery and cruelty as he is to the throne currently occupied by his less than chivalrous father. A smart quick-witted and brutal 15 year old, Jorg is often taken for less than the sum of his experience. He is no less than a rogue and has more than earned his place among his Brothers of the road by cracking skulls as much as by leadership.

Jorg is no ordinary teenager. He's lived among the brutal marauders, under their rules for the last four years. He left his father's castle by his own choice at the age of ten on a quest to avenge his mother and brother who were horribly murdered before his eyes. His quest as yet unfinished he travels his world making war and death his stock and trade. Until that is he's brought home and the path he's chosen is forced to change.

I haven't read a book with such a great first person narrative in ages! Jorg makes no bones about just what sort of person he's become since he left his father's castle telling us exactly what it is he and his men do as they wander about in as clear detail as he cares to offer. Jorg it seems has become an evildoer and relishes the action and battle he finds with his comrades though that horrible night which changed his life is never far from his thoughts. While this should make him a less than sympathetic character it well and truly doesn't! While he's capable of a great deal of wrong he's also a very keen wit and is clearly acting to survive in a world he feels has no sympathy for the innocent. He is essentially giving his world back the same pain and misery it has given him only with a lot more charm and cunning than it bargained for!

While Jorg is only 15 he speaks with the voice of a man twice his age and with a wry sort of humor most couldn't take in such darkness. His companions and the many combatants they meet along the way are just as intriguing as the storyteller himself. I think any fantasy fan is going to love this book! The voice Jorg tells his tale with (there is more on the way thank goodness!) is crisp clear and very easy to get caught up in. Lawrence's writing is hugely entertaining and he takes us to so many unexpected places that you can't help but want to read more. This books is a treat to read and well worth the time invested!
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56 of 64 people found the following review helpful
on August 2, 2011
Note: review by a friend

Brother Jorg, Prince Honorous Jorg Ancrath, will be King by fifteen. Emperor by 21, probably. But at the moment he is a road bandit, rapist, butcher, torturer. And he is the hero of the book Prince of Thorns, by Mark Lawrence.

You get heroes of all kind in fantasy literature - heroes with varying degree of skill, powers and motivation. The good guys are pure of heart and clean of face. Then we have the anti-heroes, the unwilling heroes who have the hero-hood thrust upon them, but they always come through, and finally show their heart of gold.

Brother Jorg is at the far end of that scale, you might say. He is a stone cold bastard, thirteen year of age, killed more men than the plague. But ok - the land is riddled with war; the feuds between the little kingdoms have been going on for decades, centuries. If he can become the Emperor, at least there will be no more war.

Prince of Thorns is the first book of a trilogy, where we will follow Jorg's path. The set is an alternate Europe (with magic, ghosts and monstrosities), refreshing it its simplicity. The focus is entirely on Jorg. His stubbornness and lack of fear is legendary - he survives against overwhelming odds by a mixture of intelligence, brutality, dirty tricks, cunning, necromancy, etc.

What do I think about it? If you can get through the initial revulsion in the first dozens of pages (where the author really grinds your nose into the feces of brutality and immorality, to get your mind on the right track) it's a wonderful book! A page turner, I personally read it in one sitting. Ok, you may learn that Jorg has had a rough childhood to motivate his deeds, but that doesn't really matter. It is refreshing to just be able to follow the machinations of an artful bastard, winning against all odds. Just don't expect much romance and love - there is a hint, but no more.

Extremely different! But refreshingly so. I will read the other two books, that's a promise.

Recommended, for some
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on October 19, 2011
As someone else pointed out, the covers of the sci-fi/fantasy shelf are getting ridiculous looking: It's either a vampire goth girl with guns or it's this figure, Mr Cloak and Dagger. Don't let the cover put you off though, this is a tautly written debut that takes the dark fantasy genre horse and rides it full tilt right out of the gate.

The hero is a princeling of a nasty bit of future-past feudal state surrounded by a hundred or so warring other fiefdoms, who on his 10th birthday watches his family get slaughtered and vows revenge on the evildoers by setting himself to become the most thoroughly dark-side character this side of Darth Vader, and does so in a far more convincing fashion than, say, Anakin Skywalker.

The story looks like your standard medieval revenge-fantasy, but it starts extra dark and desperate and manages to maintain that intensity without ever slacking off. There's magic about, but it's takes a seat behind plain old-fashioned bloodthirstiness and human cruelty, no superheroes here, and when magic does pop in, it's a plot device, not an excuse to replace exposition with "special effects" or, even worse, chapters that read like the stenography of some pencil-and-paper role playing game.

Lawrence can write, really write, and I think his prose and pacing are superior to some of the originators of the genre who've taken to producing series like they're being paid to write by the pound (I'm looking at you, Glen Cook). As a writer, I put him at the level of Abercrombie and Sanderson, with some shades of Jack Vance's "Dying Earth" and some Saberhagen's "Empire of the East" sprinkled in for good measure.

Rafael Sabatini would be proud, the revenge fantasy is still going strong.

I'll be adding this guy to my bookmarks page, no doubt.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
Prince of Thorns in such a caustic, morally insensitive way that I was almost instantly reminded of Stephen Donaldson's Lord Foul's Bane, the first book to bring me such ire that I almost literally threw it into the fireplace. I finished Lord Foul's Bane, on the strength of two trusted readers, but ended up hating the novel so much that I haven't touched Donaldson since. That experience rang though my head as I began Prince of Thorns. The protagonist/narrator, Jorg, was just such a pest, so insensitive and hard to relate to, that I couldn't fathom reading an entire novel centred around him.

Just like Lord Foul's Bane, I went to some trusted readers and reviewers for an opinion more informed than the one I'd come to after reading only 12 pages. Reviewers with tastes similar to mine love the book, often citing it as one of the top Fantasy debuts of 2011. Heady words. Also scattered amongst those reviews were comparisons to some of my favourite writers: Scott Lynch, Joe Abercrombie, George R.R. Martin. Comparisons to Abercrombie (for unleashed violence and nihilism) and Lynch (for wit and an easy black humour) are fair, though such comparisons perhaps do Lawrence's work a disservice by pigeonholing him into a style of Fantasy that he breaks away from with some interesting plot developments mid-way through the novel, but comparisons to GRRM are silly. There's certainly a high level of high stakes politicking and a penchant for killing characters, similar to what you find in some of Martin's storylines in A Song of Ice and Fire, but where the actions of GRRM's most atrocious characters can often be justified and accepted with a certain sense of reality, Lawrence's characters are black all the way to the pit of their core and their actions reflect this in a way that often tore me away from my sense of belief and reminded me that I was reading a piece of fiction.

As the novel progresses and Lawrence delves into the past of the young prince through a series of flashbacks, the reasons for his actions and his shattered psyche become more clear and, almost without realizing it, the reader begins to see Jorg not as a sociopath without hope, but a boy damaged by a traumatic childhood experience that once forced him to become the demon he hated so as not to be overcome by the fear, anxiety and anger that fills him. By the end of the novel, Lawrence has taken the little bugger to great depths and his actions are explored thoroughly. Prince of Thorns is a dark novel and often hard to read, but by the end it's not dark for the sake of shock value, or dark simply to allow Lawrence to explore some sick part of his soul; rather, it's dark because exploring those lightless depths is central to the core themes of Jorg's story.

As a character and a narrator, Jorg is compelling and likable despite his heinous acts; he's intelligent, ruthless and sly, commanding a band of dozens of hardened bandits, criminals, murders and rapists who bend to his will; he's fifteen years old. Too often, I was ripped out of the story because Jorg acted in a way that defied his age (which is implicitly concrete in the story, given the chain of events that leads to Jorg's self-imposed exile). He has the mental and emotional capacity of a person much, much older than himself and there's little reason given for why he is able to act in such a way. Jorg is Doogie Howser as written by Joe Abercrombie, and it's sometimes hard to swallow.

If the young boy is prince, then the setting is king in Prince of Thorns. The way Lawrence draws a compelling post-apocalyptic wasteland full of skyscrapers-turned-castles, rogue AIs and biological warfare from a seemingly generic fantasy wold is a feat to be lauded. Most interesting is that through the end of the world, religion and myth have both persevered among society, though technology and political lines are long shattered and forgotten. From Robin Hood to Plato and Socrates, Lawrence has weaved the mythology of our world into his post-apocalyptic society with an easiness and logic that feels natural, allowing the world to seem alien and familiar at the same time.

Prince of Thorns is further bouyed by some beautiful writing. Eloquent amongst the chaos, Lawrence's prose is simple and fast-moving, with just enough of a hint of poetry to lend and air of realism to Jorg's narrative voice and royal upbringing. In such a grim story as Prince of Thorns, Lawrence is able to find a certain sort of beauty in his grim world.

Prince of Thorns is not an easy novel to read, despite the fast-flowing prose and short chapters. It's caustic and hard to swallow; it won't wish you off to sleep with pleasant dreams, nor greet you in the morning with a smile on its face and a kiss on your lips. But it will make you think and wonder, it will stick in your gut and twist itself around while you're not reading it. I almost put Prince of Thorns down in its first few pages, but on turning its final page, I had discovered one of 2011's finest Fantasy novels. Prince of Thorns comes with my highest recommendation, but be warned that it's not for the weak of heart, mind or taste.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on September 23, 2011
Trapped in a thorn bush, ten-year-old Prince Jorg watches in horror as his mother and brother are savagely murdered. A mere few years later, Jorg is the ruthless leader of a band of cold-blooded outlaws, raiding village after village on a path to vengeance through a land plagued by feudal wars.

If you're a Joe Abercrombie fan, I'll give you Greg's bona-fide 100% guarantee you'll love Prince of Thorns. I'm not implying in any way that Mr. Lawrence is an Abercrombie clone. Lawrence's writing is definitely all his own but his dark tone, cleverness, and realism make a perfect match to Abercrombie's stuff.

Prince of Thorns is written as a first-person narrative told by Jorg. It's a grim revenge story that, except for a couple supernatural elements, reads just like medieval historical fiction. In fact, as I read it, I struggled to figure out what made this book fantasy. Then, just shy of halfway through, in only a few sentences, Lawrence turned the whole thing upside down. Actually, he really did it with one word, but at the time, I was so wrapped up in the story that I missed that word for what it was. Maybe other readers are smart enough to catch on sooner than I did. Regardless, get a good grip on the arms of your favorite reading chair before you get floored. I don't want to give any more away because discovering where and when this story is set is a huge part of the excitement. So I'll leave at this: in the span of a few paragraphs, this book went from a standout debut to shining genius.

The violent deaths of Jorg's mother and brother, his torturous recovery from a fever brought on by the poison of the thorns, as well as the cruel upbringing in his father's castle, all seem to have made Jorg into a monster. Or maybe those things just brought the monster to the surface. Jorg is more merciless than his marauding cohorts, maybe even more than his enemies. And he's just barely in his teens. Usually, I can't buy into a child character that acts more like an adult, let alone be a military leader of hardened men. Not only did I buy it this time, I ate it up. I'm always amazed when an author can create such a connection to a villainous character. It's a little disconcerting, but I can't deny that I like this guy. With Jorg, it's always all or nothing. Most times, he hasn't a clue what he'll do until he does it. He is so defiant that sometimes he even feels compelled to go against his own plans! This line defines Jorg in a nutshell: "I don't like to get angry. It makes me angry." Call me sick, but not only do I find that hilarious but I just get it.

Lawrence's style is so much fun to read. He's a master at one-liners and I found the entire book quotable. It's darkly comedic, action-packed, and economical. Lawrence is one of those writers with an exceptional talent for saying a lot with few words. The story reads fast and the reader ends up in a totally different place than he or she ever expected.

Prince of Thorns is the first book of THE BROKEN EMPIRE trilogy, but it stands just fine by itself. It's a book with a real conclusion instead of an installment with a cliffhanger. But Jorg definitely has more tales to tell and I'll be there to hear them. However, as exciting as hanging out with Jorg is, I'd never trust him enough to turn my back to him.
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246 of 331 people found the following review helpful
on September 18, 2011
I don't mind harsh, grim heroes...but even the most stone-cold fantasy heroes I have read in the past have at least a shred of humanity.

I did not complete this book, and maybe that is my fault. The cover flaps read good -- sounded like my kind of story -- but twenty pages in I realized that this was not my kind of read -- where a 13 year old boy -- and he is 13 in the start of the book -- rapes two teenage girls after killing their father -- and in a spark of cruelty tells the father he is going to do so before he dies, and then once the rapes are complete, murders them both by burning their house around them while they are still alive, and he has zero regrets other than to comment that the older one was more compliant than the younger one before he had both of them killed.

Not a shred of remorse. No sign of humanity. At the start of this book, the main charactor is an amoral psychopath who revels in death, and who has zero compulsion in taking a life with no regrets.

I learned my lesson -- maybe I should have taken the time to read the first chapter in the store before buying -- if I had, I would not have purchased this book.

I won't be buying any of the follow-on books. Either the "anti-hero" is no hero at all, which I suspect is the case, or the author is going to at some point going to have a plot twist that blames society for the lack of humanity in the main character, which I think stupid, because heroes -- even those with questionable methods and means -- rise above such silliness and at the end of the day, do the right thing. The way this book reads...I don't think that this hero has a concept of right or wrong, and will be unable to do the right thing as the character evolves.

If you are looking for a fantasy hero version of Riddick (as from Riddick's Chronicles) or even a tale in the same vein as the anti-hero Elric of Melnibone, this is definitely not it. If you are looking to read about a psychopathic killer whose humanity left him at an early age (if it was ever there at all), and enjoy cruelty and meaningless death, then this book might be for you.

Once again...maybe I am not doing the book justice since I did not read all the way through the end..but I did skim over the rest of the book randomly...and it seemed like Jorg did not change his stripes as the story progressed.

Basically, this book is likely to remain unread, and will be on the shelf soon of a Half Price Books soon.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on March 29, 2013
What makes an Anti-hero? How evil can a hero be before the readers hate him? To my surprise I discovered there is a lot of flexibility on this matter. Jorg is not a character to love and it is a testament to Mark Lawrence(ML) writing skills that Jorg is not a character to hate either. ML achieved this in 3 ways:

1. He did not try to make us love Jorg. This I highly appreciate. There can be no single explanation for some of his evil actions. If ML attempted, he would have failed and left the readers with a loathing for the character who seems not only evil but is unaware of his evilness. In my estimation that is a far worse character.

2. This book is saved by the first person narration. Usually I abhor this technique because in unskilled hands it can cast the narrating character as gormless and infantile in thought. However in this case ML wields it well. Jorg's thought processes are thoroughly fascinating and enlightening. There is no one explanation for his actions, only a continuous revelation. I imagine if we were introduced to Jorg in third person narrative he would be an irredeemable character.

3. Jorg is funny. I found myself laughing out loud at his dry wit in inappropriate circumstances. For some reason I felt guilty laughing with Jorg. I shouldn't like him but I cannot dislike him.

I also enjoyed the world setting. It combined the best of both world: Post apocalyptic and historical. I get the sense that it is earth thousands of years in the future in which continuous war destroyed the technological age and reduced humans to a historical state.

This is the story of Jorg who promised he would be a king by the time he was 15yrs old. The plot twists were simply fantastic. The characters you meet are raw and compelling (not just Jorg). This book is a must read.

*ps: Do not be put off by the YA cover. I cannot comprehend why such an insightful book has such an insipid cover.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
I had the privilege of receiving an early copy of this book. It is dark, daring, and suspenseful. Lawrence makes no apologies for his cruel prince. He does not want you to pity him or make allowances for his previous trauma. He does not ask you to like him, but he does make you care about him.

A friend of mine picked up this book, leafed through it a bit, and then began reading it intensely. An hour later she said, "I'm sorry, I lost track of time. I've never read anything like this before." That about sums it up. Reading this book is an experience that can be difficult to describe, but it's not one you'll forget.
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18 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on June 23, 2013
I was excited about this book, having read several favourable comments about it from highly esteemed writers. I was, however, very disappointed. The main character is said to be an anti-hero, but there's nothing heroic about him at all, he's really just a violent school bully. There really is no redeeming feature in him, and it's tiring reading a book when you really can't stand the main character or understand why he does what he does.
Throughout the book the main character has several "flashbacks"/dreams/visions - but these are so poorly narrated and poorly gelled into the book that I as a reader was more often left confused as to What had really happened, did it happen now, did it happen years ago, was it all a dream, does it have any bearing on the main story, etc.
Also, it is a bit hard to visualize the world in which the story takes place. Where is it? Whan is it? It seems to be a kind of non-real fantasy world, but constant references to actual greek philosphers and things like the church in Rome suggests that it is not. The author might think that this is clever, but it really just ends up confusing the reader.
I'm afraid I in no way can recommend this book. Don't expect a fantasy epic. Don't expect a charming anti-hero main character you can love to hate. Don't expect an organized narrative. It took me a lot of effort getting through this book, several times I was very tempted to leave it. I will not bother to read the sequels. Save yourself a lot of annoyance, and steer clear of this book.
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