Prince of Thorns (The Broken Empire #1) by Mark Lawrence
Published on August 2nd 2011 by Harper Voyager
Genre: dark fantasy
Rating: 4/5 stars – ★★★★
Before the thorns taught me their sharp lessons and bled weakness from me I had but one brother, and I loved him well. But those days are gone and what is left of them lies in my mother’s tomb. Now I have many brothers, quick with knife and sword, and as evil as you please. We ride this broken empire and loot its corpse. They say these are violent times, the end of days when the dead roam and monsters haunt the night. All that’s true enough, but there’s something worse out there, in the dark. Much worse.
From being a privileged royal child, raised by a loving mother, Jorg Ancrath has become the Prince of Thorns, a charming, immoral boy leading a grim band of outlaws in a series of raids and atrocities. The world is in chaos: violence is rife, nightmares everywhere. Jorg has the ability to master the living and the dead, but there is still one thing that puts a chill in him. Returning to his father’s castle Jorg must confront horrors from his childhood and carve himself a future with all hands turned against him.
This book has been on my shelf since 2014. Possibly 2013! I know, it’s horrible of me… It sat on my shelf, unread, for 5 years. I was just intimidated by it, even though it’s not very long at all. What intimidated me is the nature/genre of this book: dark fantasy. I wasn’t sure I wanted to read something so utterly… messed up.
This book centers around Prince Jorg, who is thirteen years old and the leader of a band of outlaws. When he was nine, his mother and little brother were killed right in front of him by Count Renar.
Throughout this story, we basically follow Jorg’s journey. I have to admit that I didn’t see the point of the plot, or where the story was going, for a while. It just seemed to be Jorg’s life as the leader of a band of criminals and him suddenly deciding to go back to court. It was only a while into the book that I got what it was about. Jorg wants to win the game, and become Emperor.
The thorns taught me the game. They let me understand what all those grim and serious men who’ve fought the Hundred War have yet to learn. 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.
I wish there would have been a bit more direction to the story and that the ending hadn’t been as abrupt, but overall I was quite satisfied with the story. I wasn’t left bored, and I didn’t feel like it dragged on endlessly. I was entertained and intrigued for the majority of this book.
I will say this book immediately sets the tone. You start the book on a scene of murder, disemboweling, pillaging and rape. You don’t read the actual rape happening, but it’s mentioned quite a few times. It’s like a warning when entering this book. Watch out, it’s going to get dark.
This is what I found most fascinating. I went into this book thinking it was epic fantasy with little to no relation to our world -as usual. Yet while I was reading I kept coming across references to our world. There were mentions of Sun Tzu, Robin Hood, Socrates, Plato, the Ouroboros, and more. So I was left wondering whether this was actually related to our world. I wish I could get some more answers on that, but I’m too afraid to see spoilers to actually Google anything.
I’m only going to talk about Jorg because he’s the main character throughout this entire book. Jorg is incredibly messed up. Seriously, the kid terrifies me. He’s 13 years old but I doubt there’s an illegal thing he hasn’t done yet. In fact, he revels in acts like murder. He has no regard for human life, has zero tact and couldn’t care less about anyone but himself (aside from the Nuban maybe).
I was very intrigued by Jorg. He reminds me of witnessing an accident; horrifying, yet you can’t look away. In fact, I’d rather keep my eyes on him at all times to prevent him from killing me too. I know it’s horrible of me to say, but I found him to be quite funny. It lead to me laughing while he stabbed someone to death and then re-evaluating my own sense of humor and morality. I know he’s terrible, but he’s still funny, okay?
While he is an incredible fighter and a leader who knows how to keep his gang in line, he isn’t flawless at all. He doesn’t admit to fearing anything, but he does.
I’ll tell you now. That silence almost beat me. It’s the silence that scares me. It’s the blank page on which I can write my own fears.
Jorg is portrayed as this incredibly smart character, privileged enough to receive a great education. And while he was smart, I couldn’t help but despair at his decisions at times. He has a habit of killing everyone who disagrees with him or stands in his way (seriously, everyone) and I found myself thinking he’d soon be the leader of no band of criminals because there’d be no one left.
He does a lot of awful things, and has a lot of awful thoughts, which can become difficult to read after a while. After all, we are reading from his perspective… The misogyny and sexist remarks became a bit too much for me at times.
One thing I wasn’t fond of was his immediate and weird obsession with Katherine. It didn’t make any sense to me, and I caught myself rolling my eyes every time she was mentioned.
The last thing that stood out to me was the following. The only other Mark Lawrence books I have read are his Book of the Ancestor series, which is about assassin nuns. The cast of characters in those books is like 95% female. The cast of characters in The Broken Empire, however, is like 95% male. There are very few female characters, and most of them have little power or importance to the story.
Overall, I found this an interesting start to Jorg’s story. I will definitely continue the series, but probably not anytime soon. This isn’t my favorite of Lawrence’s books that I’ve read so far, but I still enjoyed reading it. I’d recommend this book if you want to start reading dark fantasy, because it’s kind of a staple of the genre at this point. Just beware, if you want to read this, that it is dark fantasy and the characters are infinitely messed up.