Reading Prince of Thorns was an unusual experience for me, and it was due to a single question that ran through my mind for the entire length of the book. Am I supposed to be caring about a character who, by almost all accounts, is a horrific human being?
*Slight spoilers ahead*
This question, in addition to it moulding my experience of reading the book, transferred through the pages and infected the secondary characters of the novel. For how has the main character – someone who quickly, and often happily, murders individuals he apparently thinks as ‘Brothers’ – managed to garner such a loyal following? Why do these miscreants follow him into suicidal situations if many of them question his judgement?
The answer to all of these questions does come to light by the end of the novel, but I am unsure whether I am satisfied with what was provided. Now this makes it seem that I did not enjoy the book, which is incorrect, because I did, so much so that I will shortly be purchasing the other two books in the trilogy to find out what happens; yet it is here that one of my main problems with this first entry comes to light.
It is very obvious that this book is written to be the beginning of a trilogy, and what I mean by this is that there are far too many loose ends and unexplained events still present by the turn of the final page. This, in itself, is not necessarily a bad thing, but in this individual instance I would like it to be explained later on in the series.
I am all for authors not providing all of the answers – Heck! I do it constantly myself – yet certain things within this novel I found infuriating, something I know will taint my later enjoyment of Mark Lawrence’s work if not ultimately rectified.
My main gripe comes with the villain of the piece but, in order to explain my feelings properly, I must first talk about something else I struggled with (It will make sense in a minute, I promise).
In Prince of Thorns there are A LOT of characters. And I mean a lot. Lawrence, admittedly, does a wonderful job at giving each side character a quirk or a personality to help distinguish them from the rest – lack of teeth, overweight, all round bastard etc – but whereas certain named characters are around for the entire novel, others get a quick mention before abruptly meeting their demise. By giving these named characters such a quick exit I found my mind switching off whenever a new name appeared, something that came to bite me in the arse big time when the ‘Big Bad’ was revealed in the last hundred or so pages.
By the end the true villain is revealed to not be the character we thought, but instead someone behind the scenes pulling the strings. We are given a brief scene with him early on – due to what I mentioned above I cannot even remember if he was named at that point or not – before the curtain was drawn back in the final act to reveal him shouting “Twas I all along!”. When the ‘reveal’ occurred it initially completely passed me by. It was only when a name I did not recognise was being repeated so often within a short space of time that I twigged that the character must be important, and so went back and re-read the pages only to still not know who the individual was. I understand that this is more my failing than that of Lawrence, but it did lesson the impact of the finale in a way I think he would not have wanted.
In regards to the villain, the events that occur after their reveal felt rather abrupt, in fact the last fifty pages or so felt like they skipped over so much that, when I finished the book, I quickly flicked back through it to see if I had missed a chapter or two.
This abrupt ending brought with it another gripe and it is one that stems from something I mentioned earlier. As this book is written to be a part of a trilogy there are certain things missing from it, namely the redemption arc of its main character – If someone who flagrantly flaunts that he is a rapist should deserve redemption. By the end we are given an excuse for everything that has gone on, thanks to those strings being pulled, yet only the tiniest of hints that the character feels any remorse. With a quick search engine search it appears that the following books in the series do focus more on the redemption of the character, yet this is what I mean when I continue to go on about a book specifically written to be a series, it feels unfinished. I wanted the consequences of his actions to affect him more in THIS book, not one I will read in several weeks times.
(The reason I emphasised this is because it is a very big ‘but’)
…it is only after the book is finished do you see the subtleties throughout that have garnered it such praise from critics and readers. Going back to the first part of this review; I found reading this book an unusual experience because, despite the character being horrible, I got what Lawrence was trying to convey. Admittedly it took me until the last page but still, I got there eventually.
Mark Lawrence wanted me to feel this way, he wanted me to go through all of the emotions and reservations mentioned above, he crafted all of this (the clever bugger) and manages to do so through the use of his unreliable narrator, the main character himself.
The ending of the book felt like, what I like to call, The Sixth Sense moment. There is a feeling of unease throughout yet it is only at the very end, when a crucial piece of the puzzle is revealed, that everything else starts to make sense. In the last page or so it is revealed that the book is actually being written by the main character, that it is like some form of therapy for him to try and remember everything that had gone on. So any fault in the tale, anything that I so far have attributed to Lawrence, is in-fact the fault of Jorg the main character.
There is a reason the villain feels as if he came from nowhere, because from Jorg’s perspective he did. In other such literature the omniscient story teller would have alerted the reader every time the bad guy was hiding in the shadows and twiddling his moustache. Yet Jorg does not have that power, despite how much he’d like to.
The character’s heroism, the powers he apparently possess, even some of the atrocious things he has done can be attributed to something close to self-aggrandising propaganda. Any event that feels skipped over is because Jorg has skipped over them in his writing, why should he be bothered to tell the reader about a nice fireside chat he had with a loyal friend on the eve of battle when he can skip right to the end and show him victorious?
I understand that I am contradicting myself, but this novel causes that. I both want the answers my infuriated self is crying out for while at the same time see why I will never get them… and this is why the novel is great.
Lastly I just want to touch upon the setting, the time frame if you will, of the novel. The small hints that are only barely mentioned are done to almost perfection. This touches upon the type of feeling that surrounds the Sixth Sense moment, that something is not quite right with the world that we are being shown, yet in terms of the setting it is executed brilliantly. Again in a contradictory manner I want to know more about the world that Lawrence has created, yet at the same time I don’t. If the hints are peppered throughout that will be more than enough for me, I can make up the rest in the moments of the day when I am unable to continue reading.
Mark Lawrence’s 2012 debut had me worried for a while, but once I finally realised what was going one, something that admittedly took me too long, I could see that it was worth the time I’d put into it.