Prince of Fools by Mark Lawrence
The release of Prince of Fools is quickly approaching and the book has already been sighted in the wild, lurking on a couple of shelves in bookstores, maybe even near you. You could take a look. If you find such an elusive copy already released into the wide world, I’d suggest you grab it as fast as you can and offer it a shelter at your own home. It is a remarkable book and people who liked his Broken Empire series should buy it, no questions asked. For those that were put off by the psychopathic protagonist Jorg, I can assure you that Jal is a person easier to like. If you were one of those put off, my blog post on this matter might interest you.
Mark Lawrence‘s books shine through their masterful first person narrators. His skill in creating unique and memorable protagonists is what elevates his books above many of the competing fantasy books. While I like his setting and plot, they’re clearly overshadowed by the might and strength his characters radiate through the pages. This is true for The Broken Empire and promises the same with the first installment of his new trilogy titled Red Queen’s War. With the same setting with only a difference in location, the new series still has the possibility of lifting the overall plot to the same heights as the characters.
While the plot of Prince of Fools is definitely interesting, it takes a back seat behind Jal and his companion Snorri. Both of them are incredibly compelling characters that drive the plot forward and I’d wager people would still read stories about them doing mundane things like going fishing together, or building a doghouse. Thinking of Jal, I do believe that would not go as smoothly as planned.
While Snorri is the epitome of a viking hero with also all the traits of a civilized gentleman, Jal is only one thing: A coward. But he’s not your average coward shivering under the table. He’s a coward that has perfected his trade. If you ever want to become a better coward (for whatever reason) he can show you how to do it. He actually has some very good tips at how to be a successful coward. It’s ironic that his attempts at escaping danger often leads him into even more. Sometimes his heedless running away even culminate in him being mistaken for a hero. And never forget, there’s more to him that you might see at first.
Since my priorities were Prince Jalan, Prince Jalan, and Prince Jalan, with ‘looking good’ a distant fourth, I took the opportunity to resume running away.
That’s how Jal is, and despite what you think about him now, you’ll probably end up loving him. Why? Because he knows that there are times you have to stand and fight, even if your legs are about to give out from under you in fear. As already shown in his other series, Mark is an author that writes believable change. His protagonists don’t stand on the same spot for the whole book/series, they always display change, even if only in the minutest details.
The book is very similar to Prince of Thorns and that shouldn’t surprise people. Not only does it display the same setting and similarly uncommon protagonists, the world is as brutal and bloody as Jorg ever was. On their journey together, Jal and Snorri leave a trail of blood behind. Mostly done by the huge viking and his axe, but Jal can use his sword too. And he has to, because they are hunted by the dead and their master. Monsters on their heels, the two companions are whipped by magic to reach their far destination. Fate took the two men in its bony claws and as much as they wriggle and kick, they cannot escape.
A major change between the books is the focus on Jal’s companion, Snorri. An often voiced concern about the Thorns series was that every character except Jorg felt bland. That observation did not strike me personally as odd, since Jorg is the narrator of his own story and emphasises his own life over those of others. That he didn’t tell the reader much about the secondary characters was more a trait of the length to which Mark Lawrence went to build a realistic character.
In the Fools series we have basically two protagonists, with the viking being the driving force behind the long journey, his heart beating only for revenge. He tells his story to Jal over time and we are told what a masterful speaker he is, pulling the listener into a trance where his words are clad into pictures. It’s a statement for Mark’s mastery of the prose that he can suck the reader as deep into the tales of Snorri. The story the viking tells Jal is as vivid to the reader as it is to the young prince.
To linger a bit longer with the prose, I can say that I truly enjoyed it. Writing a first person narrative is always a challenge and Mark proves again that he swims in this form as if he was born in it. Jal describes the world in such an interesting and unique way to us that his voice is clearly heard through the pages. As with the Broken Empire series, the book is full of parts I highlighted because they make such great quotes. There’s the occasional ‘hint’ that can go overboard, but most of the time the jokes and lighter parts in the book are genuinely funny.
While Jal might not be the easiest-to-like protagonist, I grew to love him more than Jorg. While Jorg is clearly the more compelling and gripping character, Jal has a way with people and that includes us readers. There are many things about their journey and the destination that make this book an enjoyable read. I won’t say more about it, since I want you to discover it yourself; all the good parts, and the not just as good parts. There were some minor things I wasn’t fully happy about, but I don’t judge them important enough to bother you with. They don’t change the verdict that this is an incredible book that makes my mouth water with the thoughts of the next installment. The ending promises to much. I can’t really wait to read on anymore. And Prince of Fools isn’t even out yet. Oh, the fool I am to have already devoured the book and now have an even longer time to wait than you uninitiated.