Hey, guys. I’ve been a bit busy these past few weeks. I went to Dragon Con over Labor Day weekend (that would be the weekend before the first Monday in September, for those who don’t know) and had a great time. I went to a bunch of fun panels (mostly in the Writing and Fantasy tracks), and bought some nice stuff (mostly books, because I’m me).
And I’ll admit, I kind of ran out of canned reviews. I wrote a bunch back in June because I was doing a NaNoWriMo Summer Camp thing in July, then whipped together my review of Shadow Ops: Control Point when I ran out of those, but after that, I didn’t really have any good ideas for book recommendations – most of the stuff I’ve been reading of late is either pretty popular, a bit outside my usual wheelhouse or recommendations, or not something I enjoyed enough to recommend.
And then I remembered something I’d read a while back, and even mentioned a few times in my sporkings. So I figured now might be the time to tell you guys about Mark Lawrence’s Prince of Thorns, the first book in his Broken Empire trilogy.
Blurb from “Amazon:”:
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 feel this needs to be said up-front – Jorg is not a nice person. I believe I remember reading somewhere that he’s basically the protagonist of A Clockwork Orange in a quasi-fantasy setting. If he were somehow transported from his world to Westeros, he’d give all the power-players vying for the Iron Throne a run for their money – he’s got all the deviousness of Littlefinger and the utter disreguard for human life of Gregor Clegane. Put simply, Jorg Ancrath is probably one of the sickest, most twisted bastards I’ve ever read about.
And god damn if I don’t love him for it.
Now, I wouldn’t want to meet Jorg in person – in fact, if he were real, almost every authority on the planet would be trying to drag him before the International Court of Justice for all manner of crimes against humanity. So it’s good that he doesn’t live in our world. Or at least, not the world as we know it.
Okay, this is where things get a bit weird. The world Jorg lives in is our world at some undisclosed point in the future. At some point, scientists somehow managed to tweak the laws of physics to make magic real, and then somewhere along the line, there was some kind of apocalyptic event which resulted not only in setting humanity back to at least middle-ages technology, as well as altering the geography a bit. Here’s one of the larger-scale maps of the eponymous Broken Empire, courtesy of Lawrence’s unofficial website, thatthornguy.com
Anyway, back to Jorg. I can tell you exactly when I really started liking him – chapter two of the first book (which you can read for yourself on the Amazon page). Here’s an abbreviated version of it, in script form:
Guy: [complains about how burning down that last village was a stupid thing to do}
Jorg: (thinking) I’m sick and tired of this guy’s constant bitching. I really, really just want to stab him in the throat. But I can’t do that, because leaders who do stuff like that won’t be leading anything for long.
Jorg: (aloud) [gives long speech explaining exactly why burning down said village was not stupid. Then turns and stabs guy in the throat.]
Maybe I’m weird, but that got a chuckle out of me.
Yes, Jorg is a sociopath, but he is not a violent psychopath – he will gladly sacrifice anyone (including friends and family) to serve his own ends, but he will not kill people just for fun. Even the inhabitants in the aforementioned village were only killed because they tried to fight Jorg and his band (at least, according to Jorg).
Now, some of you might be wondering why I’m so okay with this, but the antics of Jace send me into a frothing rage. But I have an answer for you – at no point in the entire trilogy did I ever feel that I was supposed to admire Jorg. I never got the impression that Lawrence thought Jorg was a good person, or that his actions were ever anything but deplorable. And, admittedly, there’s also a bit of grading on a curve – the Broken Empire (like Westeros and other darker fantasy settings) is not a place where idealism is plentiful. Jorg might be more than willing to slaughter people to get what he wants, but he’s hardly unique in that regard, especially among the nobility of the Broken Empire (no spoilers, but there’s a guy in the sequel, King of Thorns, who’s just as bad as Jorg in certain respects). And, as mentioned in the blurb, Jorg does have somewhat sympathetic motivations, which can somewhat off-set his disregard for others.
Also, unlike Jace, Jorg is actually kind of charming. CC will tell her readers that Jace is charming and wonderful, but tends to fail at demonstrating this. Lawrence, on the other hand, doesn’t make any claims about Jorg being charming (though the books are written mostly from his perspective), and actually demonstrates that he is.
I totally understand if this isn’t your cup of tea; for a while, the fantasy genre kind of went through a phase similar to the comics industry in the 90s (i.e. “super dark and gritty, that’s how you know we’re serious”), and this book kind of came out in the midst of that. But if you’re like me, and you occasionally want to read something from a more villainous POV that doesn’t try to make them out to just be misunderstood, then give Prince of Thorns (and the Broken Empire trilogy) a try.