G R Matthews
Prince of Fools - Mark Lawrence
So, how do you follow Jorg? Very carefully and in the certain knowledge that, should circumstances arise, he will kill you. However, in terms of writing novels you go to an opposite end of the character spectrum. Jorg is/was ruthless, determined, driven and vicious whereas our new hero is vain, fearful, and hedonistic. Yet, there are similarities; self-serving, self-preservation and both have flaws. Jorg is 'flawed' in that he occasionally (rarely) steps outside his ruthless character to do something noble. The Prince is flawed in that, for all his cowardice, he occasionally does something brave.
Our new hero's journey is not one of revenge but it was of redemption, if not a personal one then one of character and friendship. Hero reminded me, at the beginning, of a darker Rincewind; flight and escape was always first in his mind, maybe second to his need to conquer any females he took a fancy to (every one he met). Yet, there is also the hint of Bertie Wooster about him – the toff with a good heart and little brain. The Prince staggers from crisis to drama and thence into misadventure. There is comedy, for sure, but it does not detract from the dirty world that he lives in. Indeed, there is self-mocking but it all fits the character well and never do we have that literary moment when a character thinks, ‘I am the hero, I best get on be a hero; slay that dragon, use that magical orb, and sacrifice myself for the greater good.´ The heroic resignation is welcome by its absence and the character remains true. Told in the first person, as per the Thorns series, the character must remain consistent – and it does.
Our Prince is accompanied by a, seemingly flavour of the month, Viking. Thankfully the Zombie fascination has dwindled away, though the notion of romantic vampires seems to cling tenaciously to un-death (despite the many stakes driven into it – repeatedly and with a fair degree of determination by the sheer number of ‘VampRom’ in the top 100 lists on Amazon – why don’t you read Asian inspired fantasy instead, I can recommend a book!). Snorri is the stereo-typical Viking hero – big, strong, good with an axe, taciturn but like all good characters there is growth and change throughout the story. Cleverly, it is not the character that changes but our impressions of him. We are given an almost blank slate and then through flash-backs and conversations the beating heart of the man starts to be heard. I would advise that you not use, as I did, a bookmark consisting of pictures of your children as you read Snorri’s story. Word to the wise, eh.
Truth be told, I would have happily read the whole book about Snorri and consigned the Prince to the secondary character but that would have been to miss the point. Like the very situation the two find themselves in, together they make a whole character, separate they are not as strong. It is a clever device in a first person account, to split the character into two (later four, I won’t spoil it). Each provides a mirror for the other and to see the Prince from another’s view rounds out his character nicely.
My one, tiny, criticism, and who am I to do such a thing, is the middle section. For me, the journey they undertake is a little too quick and glossed over where more could be delved into. However, narratively, I can see that it keeps the pace moving and am thankful there was no desire to describe every step, every drink, and every meal. It was just a little too quick.
A nice touch, and providing us with a sense of time, are the scenes where Jorg appears and ties this series neatly in with the Thorns trilogy. Wurts and Fiest did a similar thing with Pug and the Empire series though here the crossover events are less dramatic and but more portentous for being so.
To sum up, the Prince of Fools is a well written, character driven story that plays neatly with the original Thorns series, adds more flavour to the world, and makes you want to read the next in the series.