You may recall that I gave Mark Lawrence’s The Broken Empire trilogy some lofty praises last year in April. I warned you that the books were brutal, violent, enthralling, beautiful, and–perhaps most important–extraordinarily great reads. You may also recall that Mr. Lawrence is a research scientist by day, a fact that may be largely irrelevant when it comes to his fiction, but one that I nonetheless choose to mention because I think it’s rather impressive. It certainly stands as a reminder that no matter your work or home life, it’s possible to finish writing that damned book. You can do it, I can do it. So let’s do it. Bonus points for those of you with keen eyes who noticed that the quote on the cover is from none other than Peter V. Brett, whose novel The Warded Man I reviewed two Warbles since. Funny little coincidence, that.
But, let us return to Prince of Fools, the opening book in Mark Lawrence’s second trilogy, The Red Queen’s War. If there could be a distinct opposite to Jorg Ancrath (the protag from Broken Empire), it must be Jalan Kendeth. A self-admitted coward, lecher, and generally loathsome person, Jalan is our protagonist, and he’s one who can be frustrating to read. You want to root for him, because Lawrence’s uncanny ability to weave words into cheeky, brilliant sentences that make you smile as you read them builds Jalan’s character into one who, though rather deplorable in many ways, is sympathetic nonetheless. I just scanned my highlights of this book on my kindle, and there are too many good ones to choose from. I’ll do my best here:
I stretched, yawned, scratched, contemplated the end of all things, and went back to sleep.
Okay, well, maybe it doesn’t work out of context, but either way, the book is a fabulous read. Like Broken Empire, it’s written in first-person, with the exception that this time we get a taste of some third-person perspective, as Snorri ver Snagason, Jalan’s traveling companion and a fascinating character in his own right, recalls the painful loss of his family, home, and village in a raid. These sections serve as a wonderful balance to the harsh view Jalan’s eyes cast upon the world, which I think was an excellent move on Lawrence’s part. He managed to make the protagonist even more sympathetic by association with Snorri. I can’t recall reading anything quite like it in my life. At the same time, Jalan is an unwilling participant in his own adventure. He rails against the ties that bind him to Snorri and their quest, even as he subtly grows more attached to it, and committed to reaching its end. At the end of it all, he still complains even as he take a more active role. The arc of his growth is clear, if slightly (and very intentionally) unsatisfying at the end. The setup for the forthcoming sequel, The Liar’s Key, is exquisite.
Finally, I always love when an author explores a different story in the same setting, and Prince of Fools takes place at the same time as Prince of Thorns, as far as I can tell. We even get a glimpse of Jorg and some of the other characters from Empire as they cross paths with Jalan and Snorri. It’s a nod to his fans, and a way for the reader to establish where along the already-known timeline this new story is taking place. I can’t wait to see how the major events that took place in Broken Empire affect the story in The Red Queen’s War. I eagerly await the next release, and applaud Mark Lawrence on another absolutely wonderful book. 5/5
I’ll leave you with one more quote that I feel demonstrates Mark Lawrence’s wonderful command of the English Language. This one was a thought Jalan had, as he lay in pain, in the snow:
Each hour became a process of taking a dull future and squeezing it into a dull past through the narrow slot of the moment–a moment, like each other, crowded with pain and exhaustion, and with a cold that crept around you like a lover carrying murder in her heart.