I love dark fantasy. I’m capable of finishing off a whole bunch of these books; so really, there was no question about Mark Lawrence’s trilogy being one of them. What that series gave me… there are no words. But I’ll try to find them, nevertheless.

The thorns taught him a lesson in blood…
„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.”
Once 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’s bleak past has set him beyond fear of any man, living or 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.
The Prince of Thorns is the first volume in a powerful new epic fantasy trilogy, original, absorbing and challenging. Mark Lawrence’s debut novel tells a tale of blood and treachery, magic and brotherhood and paints a compelling and brutal, sometimes beautiful, picture of an exceptional boy on his journey toward manhood and the throne.

Cover: 10/5 – No, not 5 out of 10. It’s 10 out of 5. Each of them is gorgeous separately, but seeing them together takes it to a whole new level of perfection. Some people found the picture of the corpses whose bodies are lying on the ground and being used as a stanchion for the sword too gruesome, but it fits the story very well. Total respect for the designer; these covers are worthy of a well-grounded fantasy. My personal favourite is the second cover though.

Plot: 10*/5 – If I gave ten points for the outside, I can’t give any less for the inside. However, I only recommend it for closet psychopaths or for those with nerves of steel.
We aren’t even on the tenth page of the first book, but the barely teenager Jorg has already slaughtered a whole village plus a fellow of his without any remorse whatsoever. ‘Cause he was in a mood. Yeah, I guess with these two sentences I managed to scare off all the delicate flowers, but for those of you who can stomach this stuff: I have so much to say!

Jorg voluntarily goes into exile and takes on the world by himself, equipped with irrational ambitions and a stubbornness that is characteristic to his young age. One would expect that he becomes just another victim of real life after the posh comfort of the royal castle but the exact opposite happens. He pulls together a horde of vagabond outlaws and – obviously – starts to go on raids with them. He drinks, and he visits the whore-houses quite regularly despite his young age. That is topped off by an inconceivably arrogant, egoistical, individualistic, stubborn and selfish personality („Fifteen! I’d hardly be fifteen and rousting villages. By the time fifteen came around, I’d be King!”). He always puts himself first and doesn’t care about anyone else, only uses them as a tool („I’m not used to pretending to like people.”).

So what can we deduce from all that?

A young boy with a wounded soul and a huge deal of self-assurance, who seeks to become a king. He had experienced a severe trauma at a very young age which he wasn’t able to get over in the years to come and he tries to cover up his weakness by his attitude. Ergo, fantasy or no fantasy, the impacts of a tormented childhood are so much more representative in this book than in the case of Mr. Macho Womanizer Grey with his fifty shades ever.

Despite all that, the story wouldn’t be exciting if it was based solely on the fundamental little crown prince versus big bad king kind of conflict. Luckily, we get so much more than that:

–          Violence: Jorg kills everything and anything he doesn’t fancy

–          Religion: Lawrence’s portrayal of the Christian ecclesiarches is absolutely perfect: he depicts their virtues and faults equally.

–          Magic: it would be pretty hard to sell the quarrel of mortals as epic without enemies of the mystical kind who are certainly not out of style. Jorg is not the only one after the throne: a so called Dead King wants it too, who is dangerous to the protagonist’s body and soul alike.

Mark Lawrence truly brought The Broken Empire trilogy to its full potential. He showed us in every possible way how much of an amoral bastard Jorg is, and I’m so happy that he did. The atmosphere is depressing down to the bones, I could almost feel the dirt of the street on my skin while reading – that’s what got me hooked so much. At first it may seem a bit chaotic, and I definitely wouldn’t call it fast-paced or smooth at the beginning but that’s in no way a bad thing. It gives the trilogy a special kind of depth that the author doesn’t try to explain everything all at once but rather let the reader explore the reasons and secrets of this world.

Adept fantasy-lovers will probably have their fair share of problems and concerns with it, but this trilogy is nonetheless a first-class dark fantasy, not a simple, easy read. One needs time to absorb it, but it’s so worth it.

‘Excellent – on par with George R. R. Martin.’ – says a review on the backside of the second book. Well, Lawrence won that round, in my opinion. No wonder, the books are selling so well and the publishing rights were sold for a seven-numbered amount of money. In USD.

So, this is the trilogy from the reader’s point of view. How about the writer’s?

You’ve mixed the past and the future in The Broken Empire. Was this to imply something or did you just let your fantasy roam freely?

There’s no grand message there – I just thought it was a fun idea. Also, as a scientist I like the idea that sufficiently advanced science and magic are indistinguishable. This setting allows me to play with that.

What would you have done in the place of Jorg trapped between the thorns?

Not a lot! I would have hung there and been very unhappy. I’m not a hero or a villain, but there weren’t many options to any of us in that situation.

In the Prince of Fools you write about a far less ambitious prince. Was it hard to let go of Jorg’s selfness and tune yourself to this new prince?

Not really – there was an 18 month gap between finished the last book of Jorg’s story and starting to write Jalan’s story. I had a very clear idea who Jalan was (he’s based on Flashman from George MacDonald-Fraser’s book of 1969. And if I wanted someone to hit something … I had Snorri! (Snorri is a viking warrior in the novel Prince of Fools – RK)

Jorg is nowhere near a positive character, what do you think what makes him loveable?

Whether he’s loveable or not depends on who you talk to. He’s at the tipping point between love and loathe for many people. His saving graces are that he has a sense of humour, he doesn’t whinge about what happens to him, he doesn’t make excuses, and he’s brave. Additionally we get to see the events that have helped shape him. Even so, he does some awful things and he is not a good person. All of which combines to make him interesting to read about. You don’t have to love him to enjoy his story.

Lawrence not only answered our questions but also gave us a signed Hungarian copy of King of Thorns for giveaway, which he will be sending to the lucky winner himself.

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Prince of Thorns: 344 pages, Fumax, 2014 – 2995 HUF (paperback, embossed)
King of Thorns: 504 pages, Fumax, 2015 – 3995 HUF (paperback)
Emperor of Thorns: 480 pages, Fumax, 2013 – 4595 HUF (hardcover)

Translated by Gábor Ignéczi and RavenS

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