Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Prince of Fools Book Review

by The Wanderer

Author: Mark Lawrence
Publisher: Ace
Genre: Epic Fantasy,
Series: Red Queen's War Book One
Pages: 355

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Mark Lawrence is an emerging author that is actively a part of a new trend in fantasy. I’m not talking about the trend of creating gritty fantasy stories, but the trend of writing fantasy in a more literary style.  When I purchased this book at the bookstore (yes those still exist), I found it in three different locations – new releases, literature and fiction, and sci-fi and fantasy. The point being, even a book store doesn’t know how to classify Mark Lawrence’s book. I happen to be a fan of both literary and fantasy writing, which is probably why I like this author so much.

Prince of Fools is a quick read, a well written story, and a thoroughly characterized book that is chalked full of dark humor.  It’s a solid bit of entertainment if you can laugh at people’s faces getting smashed in, while switching pace to reflect on what it means to be brave and honorable.

Prince of Fools will take readers back to the land of the Broken Empire, the same setting his last trilogy took place in. Prince Jalen Kendeth, tenth in line to the throne of Red March is a minor noble with a great lust for women and gambling.  He’s a coward and a cheat and he’s been magically linked to a brave giant Norseman named Snorri.

Their magical link calls both of these unlikely traveling companions to the north of the Broken Empire to complete a task that is supposed to help thwart the unborn (undead zombie like people), a dangerous force that is growing in numbers.

Prince of Fools may look like another Prince of Thorns – both books feature young prince’s narrating a story in first person in the same setting at roughly the same time – but rest assured Jorg (the main character from Prince of Thorns) and Jalen are two vastly different personalities with vastly different goals and motivations. There has been some worry over the internet about how similar these two characters, or let alone these two books would be. They really aren’t all that similar, as Prince of Fools establishes its own identity in both style and characterization as a work that’s independent of the Broken Empire Trilogy.

Within the first chapter of the book, Mark Lawrence basically lays out what the deal is with Jalen when he smashes a vase from behind over the head of the brother of the sister he just slept with.  I’m still not sure why he did this, but it’s funny nonetheless. Jalen’s got the spontaneity and lust of Jordan’s Mat Cauthon and the wealthy patronizing attitude of Abercrombie’s Jezal dan Luthar. I can assure you though that Jalen is a lot more likeable than Luthar and there are no dice rolling around in his head.  Jalen does offer a lot of witticisms about whatever predicament he’s in, and generally lightens up a situation with his cynical sense of humor.

Snorri is the perfect traveling companion for Jalen. His huge size and great skill in fighting gives him the ability to kill with the ruthlessness of a Gregor Clegane.  Unlike Gregor, though, Snorri is likeable. He wants to head north to get back to his wife and children. He may be the most violent and brutal character in Lawrence’s story, but he’s also the most sympathetic. Primarily, he’s what Jalen isn’t, which is brave and not afraid to get his hands dirty, as he drags the unwilling Jalen from one dangerous situation to the next.

The beginning and end of the plot are fast paced and exciting.  However, the middle portion of the plot tends to drag and some events there have a tendency to feel forced.  Jalen and Snorri both meet a lot of the secondary characters from the Broken Empire Trilogy like Jorg’s brothers and Katherine, and while it’s good to see them again, it feels like they were inserted into the plot because their wasn’t much else for the main characters to do.  Jorg (this is Jorg during the middle of Prince of Thorns) is only briefly glimpsed at by Jalen.

There were issues with structure in the second and third books of the Broken Empire Trilogy, but Prince of Fools doesn’t have any of these major structural issues.  Lawrence’s ability to write prose continues to improve with each release, and Prince of Fools continues this trend.  If you’re looking to read a book by one of fantasy’s great new writers, Prince of Fools will certainly entertain.  Fans who read the Broken Empire Trilogy can rest well assured that Lawrence can create characters that aren’t Jorg Ancrath and still be entertaining.

Score: 9.0

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