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Book review

Prince of Thorns

The Broken Empire, #1

by Mark Lawrence

This is a book that I can imagine some people really aren’t going to like at the start: the protagonist, Jorg Ancrath, seems to be more than usually disturbed young man – sociopathic is the word that sprang to my mind.

But as you read on, and as the complexity of his background is uncovered, his behaviour becomes explicable, and one begins to understand more. Eventually, one can perhaps begin to move from understanding to empathy. You learn what he has seen and how he felt – the death, the brutality, the guilt. Together with the environment he grew up in, how else could he have survived? And indeed, in due course, the layers of the true motivation of his actions begin to appear.

Jorg is still a bit of a sociopath, though. Here he is on the game of life:

“You can only win the game when you understand that it is a game. Let a man play chess, and tell him that every pawn is his friend. Let him think both bishops holy. Let him remember happy days in the shadows of his castles. Let him love his queen. Watch him lose them all.”

In this view of life as a game without rules, and a game to be won, you find the key to his character:

“Anything that you cannot sacrifice pins you. Makes you predictable, makes you weak.”

Which gives you Jorg’s philosophy on how to play – you push, you cheat, you stab them in the back, but you never, ever, stop:

“In the end it’s about staying power. They should put that on headstones, ‘Got tired’, maybe not tired of life, but at least too tired to hold on to it.”

The world in which the book is set is also an important element here. Jorg is – or at least was – the heir to the throne of one of many competing kingdoms. War is everywhere, and has always been. Again, expectations are confounded, and we gradually learn more about the history of the world, just as we do about Jorg’s personal history. It’s a world like our own medieval times, with some limited magic thrown in. Although, like Jorg, there’s a backstory which you slowly learn, and which tells you more.

Finally, we see hints of a strange politics in this world. Jorg’s ambition is to regain his throne and end the hundred years of war. But is that his ambition, or is he a pawn in a larger and more sophisticated game? Lots for me to look forward to in the rest of the trilogy!

Four stars here. Excellent writing, intriguing world building, and a nuanced main character.

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