Prince of Thorns

eBooks by Sainsbury'sAuthor: Mark Lawrence
Publisher: Ace Books (2011)
Number of Pages: 319
Prince of Thorns by Mark LawrenceHow long it took me to read: 1 week
Where I bought this book: Barnes & Noble
ISBN: 978-1-937007-68-3

Like a Moth to a Flame

I’ll just admit it right now: I judge books by their covers. It’s what book covers are for. Otherwise they would all be some neutral non-color with the title on the spine in a practical typeface. Covers are meant to grab your attention, which is why I use them as my first filter when perusing the aisles of my local bookstore for a new fantasy novel. All the books (and there are many) that have covers that look like van murals from the 70s, I immediately discount. Any books that have scantily-clad bosomy women wearing armor so ridiculously small as to be rendered useless in actual battle, I leave on the shelf. My husband and I like to go to the bookstore together and poke fun at some of the more ridiculous cover art. He’s the one who picked Prince of Thorns off the shelf on a whim, looking for a way to spend the gift card burning in his pocket. The cover of the Prince of Thorns was a little dramatic, but it was intriguing enough to warrant a flip through the pages. It passed the test and came home with us, one little paperback in a bulging bag of the day’s finds.

Favorite Five

I propose that the top 5 quotes from this book are:

5. “I won’t lie to you. Half of me wanted to stick the knife into him there and then, just as with red-faced Gemt. More than half. My hand twitched with the need to pull that knife. My head ached with it, as if a vice were tightening against my temples. I’ve been known to be contrary. When something pushes me, I shove back. Even if the one doing the pushing is me. It would have been easy to gut him then and there. Satisfying. But the need was too urgent. I felt pushed.” (p.29)

4. “ ‘I don’t enjoy torturing people, Sir Renton, but I’m good at it. Not world-class you understand. Cowards make the best torturers. Cowards understand fear and they can use it. Heroes on the other, they make terrible torturers. They don’t see what motivates a normal man. They misunderstand everything. They can’t think of anything worse than besmirching your honour. A coward on the other hand; he’ll tie you to a chair and light a slow fire under you. I’m not a hero or a coward, but I work with what I’ve got.” (p.61)

3. “Memories are dangerous things. You turn them over and over, until you know every touch and corner, but still you’ll find an edge to cut you.” (p.226)

2. “The vault stretched beyond sight. On the ceiling ghosts lights flickered into life, some obedient to the opening of the door, others struggling into wakefulness, tardy children late for the day’s lesson. I could see little of the floor past the crush of treasures. No Hollander grain-master owns a warehouse so well packed. To describe it fully would require all the vocabulary of shape and solid so kindly furnished by Euclid and by Plato. Cylinders longer and wider than a man, and cubes a yard on each side, lay stacked to scrape the Builder-stone above, and against the wall—cones and spheres in wide cradles, all skinned with dust. Row upon row, stack upon stack, matching beyond sight.” (p.229)

…and my pick for the No.1 quote is…

1. “I don’t require your forgiveness.” (p.256)

New Words

Words are wondrous creatures. Put them together and they paint a picture. Rearrange them and the scene changes. But to be able to see what they are saying, we must first know what they mean.

New Word: absolution (adjective)

Definition (Source: Merriam Webster): a remission of sins pronounced by a priest
Synonyms: pardon, amnesty, forgiveness
Origins: (Source: Online Etymology Dictionary) c.1200; from Old French ‘absolucion’, earlier ‘assolucion’; from Latin ‘absolutionem’ (nominative ‘absolutio’) completion, acquittal; noun of action from past participle stem of ‘absolvere’ to absolve (see absolve); originally of sins; in general use from c.1400
As in: “So you journeyed there to offer absolution to the poor?” (p.34)

Conversation with the Reader

While I read, I write, and as I write, I read. Here’s some of what I wrote while I read this book:

“I’m only a couple of chapters into the book, and I’m already making a list: I can’t recommend this book to my mother, to most of my relatives, to most of the friends I made while attending Christian college, and certainly not to children. The only person I can think of to show it to is my husband, and he’s already read it. It may not be the darkest novel I’ve ever read, but it’s dark enough for me. I’m enjoying this book so far, with horrible fascination, in spite of the fact that I know I wouldn’t last ten minutes if I met any of these characters in real life. They’re not masked-thug stage props or cold, alien monsters but they show the kind of humanity that makes my skin crawl; they remind me that we all begin with the same base hungers and it’s frightening that somewhere inside, primal nature is also hiding within me.

“I’m a dark person, though it’s not because I go around raiding villages and raping farmers’ daughters. It’s because I don’t pretend that, in a desperate situation, I’d be above thievery and murder. I’d like to think that I would be, but I know enough about human nature not to speak in absolutes. So, my first reaction to evil characters in novels isn’t normally ‘What a horrible person!’ It’s ‘What situation leads a person to think that’s a good idea?’ and then I pray I never find myself in the same place. I think that we all have the potential for evil in us. I have to make a choice, every day, about the kind of person I want to be, and I don’t always make the right decisions. It’s uncomfortable to be reminded of that, but also wonderful and raw.”

“Another thing I’m struggling with is that the main character, Jorg, is supposed to be fourteen years old. I run into this with novels of all genres. I have trouble believing that a fourteen year old, even one with Jorg’s background, can be as capable as Jorg is. Or as introspective as Jorg is. Or as cruel and deranged as Jorg is. The biggest thing I associate with fourteen-year-olds is insecurity, and I haven’t found that in him yet.”

“I’m surprised to find that Prince of Thorns is written in the first person. It’s an unusual perspective for fantasy novels, which tend to be driven by plot and world building; there’s normally too large a cast of characters to make first person feasible. But Lawrence’s novel is not only character driven; it’s driven by a character that seems remarkably unreliable. First person is one thing, but not being able to trust the narrator? I’m squealing with maniacal glee.

“Jorg likes to talk about how evil he is. His list of evil deeds is certainly quite evil, but I can’t help but feel that Jorg is building an image of who he wants to be rather than who he is. He wants to be an emotionless killer, rapist, and thief, but he cares a little too much. He cares whether or not his father approves of him; he cares that the woman with whom he is infatuated hates him. Though he doesn’t have many of them, he shows a smidgeon too much feeling for the well-being of his friends. Jorg maintains a careful façade; he knows that the first person you have to convince of a façade is yourself. He constantly has to talk himself up to maintain that mask. So that insecurity I was looking for? I’ve found it.

“However, as the story progresses, Jorg realizes that there are parts of his life that are missing or blurred, that are not as concrete and defined as he believed. There is a constant tension between who Jorg is trying to be, who others are shaping Jorg to be, and who Jorg actually is; this may make Prince of Thorns one of strangest coming of age novels ever. That struggle for identity is a universal theme, though my personal battles were a little more metaphorical than Jorg’s, and I think that struggle is what makes Jorg relatable in spite of his morally questionable choices. I empathize with that internal tension and recognize it as my own. It’s misleading of me to write of my personal battles in the past tense. I admit that. It’s difficult for me, even now, to speak in my own voice, to not smother myself to a whisper. Is it me who wants to eat this muffin for breakfast? Or is it someone else who wants me to want to eat this muffin for breakfast and I just want to make them happy? Is what I really want a bagel? And don’t even bring up butter or cream cheese.

“I understand the frustration of not knowing if your motivations and desires are your own. It can take you down a long, badly lit road with some seriously shady alleyways. That road doesn’t go anywhere but deeper inside, leading you in infinitely tighter circles. It can warp you. It can swallow you whole.”

“I prefer novels that don’t create their worlds from scratch because creating an entire world from nothing is difficult to do well. I have read plenty of failed attempts. By far my favorite method is to generate a world based on existing cultures, which is the case in Prince of Thorns. It gives both reader and author a starting point, like an ice-breaking game that initiates conversation. What I’ve never read before is a novel that actually implies why the world in the novel is so similar to our own. I won’t say anything more, I don’t want to spoil anything, but I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the gradual exploration of the setting so far.”

“I find myself feeling ambivalent about the ending. I’m programmed to look for that rebirth and redemption archetypal plot. I’m waiting for Jorg to turn his life around, to give up his life for a friend, to give up his evil ways. But, well, that just isn’t Jorg. And the book isn’t really a tragedy either, because the main character is alive and hearty at the end of it. I suspect I’m going to have to wait for the other books in this trilogy before I’m really at peace with Jorg. In that sense, despite a well-crafted conclusion, Prince of Thorns is not a novel that can stand by itself, which is what I prefer.

“I’m having a hard time explaining to people how I, being the good little Christian girl that I am, can appreciate this novel. Once this review is published, I know I’m going to get a couple of weird looks at church. Just try to hear me out.

“I’m a broken person. Maybe not as broken as some, but more broken than others. I don’t like reading about non-broken people. Perfect characters can ruin an otherwise well-written narrative. But broken characters? From maladjusted to murderous, I embrace them all. They’re little pieces of me, pieces of the maladjusted (and sometimes slightly murderous) people whom I love. Even in the most fantastic of realms, they reflect the world that I know.

“This isn’t necessarily about camaraderie or no longer feeling like I’m alone. It’s about honesty. Dark and violent novels tell the truth of what it means to be broken, what it means to be spiritually crippled. That truth is not a place where I’d like to stay, but it’s a place I need to visit on a regular basis. I look at Jorg and I see myself. Jorg and I are walking parallel paths, and sometimes, it’s nice to know I’m not alone.”


Rachel Castleberg

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  1. Brian says:

    I enjoyed reading the review. It was a honest perspective by a “broken” woman. I personally would translate “Broken” to “Human”. There is evil in the world and because you can tolerate or even embrace Jorg’s version of it does not speak ill of you. For those who will give you “looks” at church they themselves cannot admit the true nature of their own souls.
    I served in the Army and ended up in N Iraq. I had dark thoughts but after those 5 months I realized that environment can make someone ok with horrible things whether done or seen. That is why I can identify and embrace Jorg. Right nifty fellow with a drive and passions that most never have a taste of much less drink in to excess.


  2. Marie says:

    If I could articulate how Jorg got under my skin this is how I would have said it. Very well-written review—I’m going to print it out and wave it under the noses of my friends and family who don’t understand how I could possibly enjoy reading about ‘that monstrous boy’.

  3. Fiachra says:

    This has to be my favourite review of a book I read and throughly enjoyed.
    Very well written and gives you a great overall grasp of the novel and its substance, without revealing anything.
    Thanks I really enjoyed this review.

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