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.

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  1. Klio on 18 September 2016, 09:22 said:

    Nice review, but I don’t think it’s my type. Never liked dark and gritty overmuch :/. I get too sad and lose motivation to read on even though I do love it.

  2. Juracan on 23 September 2016, 08:30 said:

    I’ll also admit that dark fantasy isn’t usually my thing, but this does look pretty intriguing. I’ve seen it in book stores a couple of times, and now that I’ve read this review, I think I might pick it up.

  3. Apep on 23 September 2016, 11:18 said:

    @Juracan: Like I said elsewhere, if you’re interested, check out the sample on Amazon. If you like what you see, pick it up; if not, don’t. You’re allowed to try before you buy.

    @Klio: I don’t know if these books would elicit that kind of response. There’s no Red Wedding type events, if that’s what you’re worried about. While does some pretty heinous stuff (oh, boy, does he ever), but he is a produce of his environment. Here’s some bits from a review cross-posted to Lawrence’s blog that I think explain what I mean:

    Ultimately, it comes down to Jorg’s own will — which we have already learned is unflinching and relentless. His father raised him brutally, cruelly — and Jorg does not want to be the heartless tyrant his father trained him to become. Yet in some ways he is even more heartless than his father probably wanted.
    Well, not heartless. He feels everything — he just doesn’t let his feelings stop him from doing some pretty terrible things.

    Jorg is not a nice person. He’s utterly ruthless. But he lives in a world where being willing to sacrifice others is pretty much the only way to get ahead. A character like Jorg can raise questions about how we view certain historical figures – how many corpses did someone like Alexander the Great or Julius Caesar have to crawl over, and how did they feel about it?

    Also, Lawrence has written another trilogy, the Red Queen’s War, in the same setting and at the same time as these books, and they’re supposed to be much less dark and gritty – if Jorg is Alex from A Clockwork Orange, the protagonist of these books is Flashman from the series of the same name. I haven’t read any of those yet, but I have the first one, Prince of Fools, and I’ve been meaning to read it for a while.

  4. Birdface on 4 October 2016, 07:40 said:

    Eh, sorry, but I trust my friend Gary’s review a lot more:

    BTW! I heard the author was spouting some nonsense about how he doesn’t need any female characters as main characters in a nitty gritty story? He should look to Scott Lynch who wrote about badass female pirates!

  5. Juracan on 4 October 2016, 10:11 said:

    BTW! I heard the author was spouting some nonsense about how he doesn’t need any female characters as main characters in a nitty gritty story? He should look to Scott Lynch who wrote about badass female pirates!

    I decided to look this up because I don’t feel like doing my grad school homework and I didn’t sleep well last night, but you can read Mark Lawrence’s statements in context here.

    His argument doesn’t seem to be more along the lines of “I didn’t think that volume one of the trilogy was a good fit for the well-written female characters. If that’s a deal-breaker for you, that’s fine, but if you think that a work of fiction needs X amount of characters of X gender/demographic to appeal to you, that’s kind of dumb.”

    I don’t know if I’d say I agree with him entirely, having not read Prince of Thorns or any of his other works outside that blog entry, but I don’t think he’s wrong, per se. The implication that an author is obliged to fill certain demographic quotas or else they’re sexist/racist/homophobic/automatonophobic strikes me as a fairly limited point of view. I’m not saying representation doesn’t matter, but certainly not to the degree you’d think from a lot of movements on the matter.

    And also when I think of Limyaael’s Rant on Character Gender (which is about women authors writing female or male characters, but I still think it works here:

    But I don’t understand the females I’ve met online at all who say that the lack of reflections means a lack of role models, and that if they don’t read books with “strong female characters” (all variously defined, of course), then they feel worthless themselves.Can someone tell me where the fuck this idea comes from, please?

    I read a lot of fairy tales as a child, and fiction. Most of them were about animals, as was all of the non-fiction I read (for example, TIME books about evolution, insects, and so on). I ignored the human characters. Yet somehow I didn’t need human “role models.” The animals usually had human characteristics, of course, but the simple fact that the main character of Bichu the Jaguar was a jaguar instead of a girl did not make her story less touching to me, or her courage less inspiring. The way that some women talk about books with male characters, it’s as if the idea that the character has a different set of genitalia immediately cuts off all ideas of commonality. Oh, piffle. These are people so strongly identified with themselves that they can’t look beyond themselves, that they need outside validation. If there are people whom you state you can’t emphasize with, how is that any different from a man claiming that he can’t emphasize with women? That would be wrong, though, according to these people, because men need to nurture “their feminine side.” What about girls needing to nurture their masculine side? Or- simplest of all- just reading books that have really neat stories and good characters? Is a character better because she has breasts?

    But that’s just my two cents.

  6. Apep on 4 October 2016, 11:52 said:

    @Birdface: As I’ve said, it’s your choice as to whether you read any book I recommend or not. I’m not speaking with any more authority than your friend, and they’re probably more familiar with your tastes than I am.

    But, as always, I would encourage you to read any available sample yourself. But again, that’s your decision to make.

    My intention with my reviews has never been to imply that my tastes are superior to anyone else’s. The point of them is for me to gush about books I like, and that maybe aren’t quite so well-known. I’ve spent so much time ripping into books I genuinely don’t like, so it’s nice to discuss ones that I do.

    @Juracan: Thanks for looking that up – you saved me some time!

    And I would point out that gender representation in the trilogy does get better. One female side-character in the first book serves as co-narrator in the second book, for example.