Prince of Thorns is very dark, very gruesome and completely different from most other fantasy stories. It’s precisely this difference that sets it apart and makes it such a great read.When a novel starts with the protagonist gloating over a village he and his companions have just destroyed and he casually complains about how thirsty killing makes him, you know that you are in for something very different than your run-of-the-mill fantasy.
The main character, Jorg Ancrath, is an absolutely ruthless psychopath and he takes far too much pleasure in killing. At fourteen he has fashioned himself the leader of a bloodthirsty band of outlaws, wreaking destruction wherever they go. Two questions immediately popped into my head: What could possibly have happened to this boy to make him such a broken human being and why on earth would a band of criminals follow a mere boy? The answers, when they were revealed, were compelling, and took me utterly by surprise.
The story is set in what initially appears to be an ordinary medieval world, but through various hints and references throughout the story it becomes apparent that this is actually a post-apocalyptic Earth where humanity has reverted back to the dark ages. The fact that some technology still exists plays an important role in the plot, which I thought made for an excellent twist and has lots of potential. As the story progresses the world also becomes ever more fantastical. Ghosts roam the roads, sorcerers and necromancers work their nefarious magic and there are monsters (in both human and humanoid form). What more could any fantasy fan want?
The writing style is very easy to read and I finished this in one day (just about). Since it’s written in the first person you get a much better feel for Jorg’s dark thoughts, his cold considerations and his motivations, which works very well. Ultimately this is a story about personal revenge, but there are also larger forces at play which opens a world of possibilities to explore in the sequels. While this is the first book in the Broken Empire trilogy it stands very well on its own and you aren’t left with one of those nail-biting cliffhanger endings.
One word of warning – women aren’t treated very well in the story. When you take into account that most of the characters are ruthless killers this attitude towards women makes complete sense. Luckily it’s limited to a few occasions where rape is mentioned, so nothing graphic.
Prince of Thorns brings something refreshingly different to the fantasy genre. I was hooked from the very first page and engrossed until the very ending. There are plot twists and political maneuvering to make George R.R Martin proud. You never quite know what to expect and I definitely can’t wait for the rest of the trilogy. Highly recommended!
The second novel, King of Thorns, will be released in August 2012.
The Rating: 8/10 (Great)
Thanks to Claire and Andrea from Jonathan Ball Publishers for the review copy.