Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Book Review: Prince of Fools by Mark Lawrence

Have you ever thought 'I want Mark Lawrence to quit writing about sociopaths, and start writing a buddy quest fantasy'? No? Well fortunately for you and I dear reader, Mark wrote one anyway. And this is the buddy quest fantasy I would have asked for; our main character is clearly the sidekick, not the hero.  The hero is a literally larger than life muscles on muscles gay porn fantasy type of guy, who recites poetry and breaks hearts by walking by, who's loyal and true to his missing wife, and desperate to rescue her.
Our main character, Prince Jalen... is not.
A self-admitted coward, liar, and indolent prince far removed from the line of succession to the throne of the Red Queen, and quite happy with that, Jalen is by turns hilarious, and charming. He is literally dragged along with our hero when they get caught up in a curse from the rather terrifying(to Jalen) sorcerous advisor to the Red Queen called the Silent Sister. The thing is, no one besides Jalen can even see the Silent Sister, though everyone knows about her.
I do have a confession to make, before I get into the breakdown: I didn't finish the 'Prince of Thorns'. I really liked Mark's writing, but my major weakness as a reader is that I need to connect to the character on some level, and I couldn't connect with Jorg. This has nothing to do with the author or the writing, but is about me as a reader. I may go back to give them a second go, as my friend Joel has nagged me to do, and I've really liked Mark's short fiction, so this was an exciting book for me to get.

The plot is established quickly, and yet, there's plenty of room for surprises, as the characters learn more about the curst itself, and how they may fit into the bigger world they find theirselves in. Lawrence is excellent at keeping to his main plot, and not getting encumbered by side-plots and worldbuilders disease for it's own sake.

Lawrence may be a very good storyteller, but he isn't a stylist.  If you're looking for someone that uses beautiful language, or stuns you with the poetry of their words, he isn't your guy. I don't recall who said it, but Lawrence seems to abide by the rule of 'transparency is best in both prose and windows'. He writes so that you don't notice the words so much as what they can do for advancing the plot.

I really enjoy the way that Lawrence unfolds his characters bit by bit. Neither Snorri or Jalen are exactly what they think of themselves to be, and the side effects of their curse, if curse it exactly is, are fascinating to reading. The way that Lawrence circles around revealing Jalen, never showing all of who he is I really love.  

Surprisingly, I emerged with a really good picture of the world Mark is writing about, even when I never noticed a whole lot of worldbuilding going on, which is quite a feat. It is helped along by the fact that it's clear that he is writing in our world, after some very fundamental changes have taken place. I hope he reveals more about the Builders and what they did to their world.

Managed expectations:
Mark did a great job of deftly answering the questions he raises in the beginning of the book, while opening things up at the end for the rest of the trilogy. I like that he works really hard to control story bloat. He reminds me of Ken Scholes in the way he keeps things streamlined and moving.  Really well done, and I'm not worried about the story bogging down in the next volume at all.

I cannot wait for book two, 'The Liar's Key', which arrives in time for my birthday in June, so Happy Birthday to me!


  1. You should probably finish The Broken Empire. Just saying.

    1. My friend Joel says the same thing! I just have a hard time reading a character I can't connect to on some level. Which I suppose, should reassure me that I'm not a sociopath I guess.

  2. Your review of "Prince of Fools" is good, but I disagree strongly with one comment. You said: "Lawrence may be a very good storyteller, but he isn't a stylist." I think Mark is very much a stylist; I've read some beautiful near-poetic prose written by him. Perhaps you might change your mind if you did finish "The Broken Empire"; the trilogy has some of the most refulgent prose I have ever read. It's so supernal, it's the equivalent of literary catasterism. He's also a versatile stylist. "Prince of Fools" is written in a very different style than "The Broken Empire" novels, even though it occurs in the same world as they do. He is adept at adapting and is one stylist who will not likely go out of style.

    1. Nice 25 cent word there; refulgent. You're right, I should probably have written that as 'doesn't seem to be', or 'in this case' as I was going off just his short stories and the one novel.
      To be fair, this isn't a flaw, a lot of readers find Rothfuss overwrought and Gaiman and McKillip to be overpretty, and lacking plot. So there is a market, and something to be said for transparent prose.