I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.Prince of Fools by Mark Lawrence
Series: The Red Queen's War #1
Published by Harper Voyager on 5th June 2014
Genres: Fantasy, Fiction
Source: the publisher
The Red Queen is old but the kings of the Broken Empire fear her as they fear no other.
Her grandson Jalan Kendeth is a coward, a cheat and a womaniser; and tenth in line to the throne. While his grandmother shapes the destiny of millions, Prince Jalan pursues his debauched pleasures. Until he gets entangled with Snorri ver Snagason, a huge Norse axe man, and dragged against his will to the icy north.
In a journey across half the Broken Empire, Jalan flees minions of the Dead King, agrees to duel an upstart prince named Jorg Ancrath, and meets the ice witch, Skilfar, all the time seeking a way to part company with Snorri before the Norseman’s quest leads them to face his enemies in the black fort on the edge of the Bitter Ice.
Experience does not lend Jalan wisdom; but here and there he unearths a corner of the truth. He discovers that they are all pieces on a board, pieces that may be being played in the long, secret war the Red Queen has waged throughout her reign, against the powers that stand behind thrones and nations, and for higher stakes than land or gold.
When Prince of Thorns was chosen as my book group’s Fantasy Book of the Month, I read it with great excitement, only to be rather, well… disappointed. I’d heard so much about the series and Lawrence’s writing, and I was sad that it just didn’t work for me. The main issue was Jorg himself – so when I heard about a new series from the author, based around a completely different character, I jumped at the chance to sample some more of his writing. And this time? I understood what all those other bloggers and readers had been talking about!
Whilst Jal is not your ‘typical’ hero, that’s kind of the whole point. He’s a spoilt brat of a prince, a womaniser, selfish and thoughtless and honestly a bit of a coward. But that’s what makes this book so fun – Jal manages to get himself into all sorts of trouble, with his mischievous personality and witty, dry sense of humour. It was so refreshing to have a hero who wasn’t the ‘chosen one’ or ‘pure’. Although he has his flaws, he is a good person deep down and visibly develops along his journey. Snorri as a companion of Jal worked really well: the two juxtaposed in terms of size and morals – Jal as a manipulative young man who is just living for the day, and Snorri as a loyal and protective father and husband despite his burly and sometimes terrifying appearance. Snorri’s back story was really heartbreaking. He was built up to be this threatening, violent Viking and then we saw his true side and the whole reason he was on a journey.
As for the setting, I always found the sudden contrast between the medieval feel of the culture and the sudden modern elements that were introduced towards the end of Prince of Thorns to be a bit… well, odd. But this time round I enjoyed it much more, particularly because there was a major concentration on mythology and legend.
I feel like Prince of Fools contains some of the funniest, most self-deprecating lines in fantasy fiction (apart from perhaps the work of Terry Pratchett!), with Jal’s frequent quips and fast wit. It had me laughing out loud, which I have to say, fantasy fiction does not often manage. Some of this was achieved from the post-apocalyptic world itself, e.g. as Jal and Snorri make their way along a train track towards a tunnel, Jal thinks to himself that a train must have been a fearsome beast to have had the strength to plough a hole through the mountain.
I’m so glad I got a review copy of this one, as it gave me another chance to try out Mark Lawrence’s writing – which I enjoyed a whole lot more this time. I’m definitely up for reading the rest of the book in the series, although I hope the ending of Prince of Fools doesn’t open up an opportunity for Jal to become more like Jorg…