Sunday, April 21, 2013

Go Read The Blade Itself instead

Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence
Publisher: someone who wants to make a buck
Recommended for: no one, really
Reviewed by Carol

Here's Cliff Notes to my review: The Blade Itself Lite, with significantly less character development, a typical revenge plot and little redemption.

Feels suspiciously like watching a dog-fight video from ASPCA. Violent, powerful with a lack of finesse, subtlety or characterization, and the only redeeming aspect might occur at the end. The main character resists personal growth and opportunities for redemption, and commits violence after violence. We open as he watches a man die with his belly ripped open, while some of his men loot corpses, rape women and set buildings on fire, and another comes through and chops off heads. Ostensibly it is in pursuit of a larger goal, but what it translates to is a path of casual violence, both intimate and large. I get that that's what the author means to show, but I felt sort of sick and uncomfortable reading it. The most interesting parts were the "four years ago" flashbacks that begin to flesh out how our lead became the dysfunctional person he is. The tragedy looms large and awful, but the story lacks the sense of spiraling into rage that would help us understand how he transformed the killing and it's aftermath into the path he did.

An interesting angle is the sort of post-apocalyptic connection that is at first hinted at with literary references, and then becomes more obvious. Forgive me, but it reminds me strongly of the trend later Shannara books took, with mysterious ruins, mutated populations and nuclear waste leaks. In this first book, there is little that is unique except (spoiler) in Prince Jorg's willingness to set fire to weapons he barely understands but knows will be terribly lethal (he is cautioned from setting them all off to just one).

Character building is a fatal flaw in Prince of Thorns. The band of twisted merry men are each little more than a significantly defining characteristic. Furthermore, the only two positively influential people in the prince's life are created out of the simplistic racial stereotypes of the "Magical Negro," and the "wise Asian teacher" who has the child's best interest in mind despite being a slave/indentured servant. The prince himself is more than a wee bit overqualified, like a master video game assassin; an expert tactician, skilled in hand-to-hand combat, decent blade work, physically fast, good horsemanship, able to use a crossbow, and all despite being only fifteen.

While I've dabbled in gaming, I've always stayed away from the flat-out warfare/shooter video games (excepting Bioshock and it's lovely period inspired weirdness). I feel like I'm seeing a trend in modern fantasy towards books inspired by that kind of video-game based storyline that focuses on the imagery of violence and quest-driven action with minimal characterization. Personally, I like my people and worlds more fully developed, but I can see where this book might appeal to a population driven by action.

One uncharacterized star.

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