Prince of Fools by Mark Lawrence
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
”I’m a liar and a cheat and a coward, but I will never, ever, let a friend down. Unless of course not letting them down requires honesty, fair play or bravery.”
Prince Jalan Kendeth is tenth in line for the throne. His grandmother, the spry 70 year old Red Queen, may have prudently dropped him down the list due to a whole host of his self inflicted bouts of poor conduct. He doesn’t exactly stipulate his disgruntlement, but we get the idea that he believes he might be more deserving of, say, eighth in line. I think we can all agree though that several warm bodies between Jalan and the throne is an excellent idea.
As I’ve watched the Windsor boys grow up, one of the things that has always made me smile to think about is how much more fun Prince Harry can have being the spare rather than what Prince William can have being the heir presumptive. Prince Charles I always think of as the man who is still waiting. He is trying to live long enough to be king, but with each passing year he looks more and more fragile, while his mother, Queen Elizabeth, looks like she is good to go for decades yet.
Prince Jalan is even further removed from the throne than Prince Harry, though if William and Katherine keep having children, Harry might find himself someday in the double digits on the list of succession. Not a problem for Harry, and really, truth be known, Jalan doesn’t want the responsibility of...well...anything. He drinks too much when funds allow him. He gambles too recklessly whenever someone will extend him credit. He has one sore finger, barely healed, from the last time he didn’t pay his debts. He is glib of tongue and has hands that deftly survey the landscape of a woman’s body well before she has even decided yes or no. Jalan often finds himself making a mad dashes for freedom from a woman’s bed chamber, a half step ahead of her well armed and murderous relatives.
Jalan is not a very likeable person. He is not a very productive or useful person, and it isn’t such a bad thing that he is a natural born coward, but it is annoying that he constantly reminds us about his lack of courage. “Humanity can be divided into madmen and cowards. My personal tragedy is in being born into a world where sanity is held to be a character flaw.” After all, few of us know how we would react in the midst of a battle until we are actually in the middle of a conflict. I could see myself screaming and running as fast as I can in the other direction if I’m faced with a line of giant Vikings or even midget ninjas. Or I might be overcome with bloodlust and charge like a bloody fool with the intent of planting my battle axe into someone’s skull. I don’t know and frankly hope I never will, but if I proved cowardly, I would do my best to gloss over that detail.
My sneaking suspicion is that Jalan is not the coward he thinks he is. He just may not have encountered the proper motivation to be courageous.
His grandmother, the Red Queen, has a sister called the Silent Sister, who for whatever reason seems to have a special affinity for haunting Jalan. She gives him the heebie jeebies.
She turned that awful face towards me, one eye dark, the other milk and pearl. It had felt hot, suddenly, as if all the great hearths had roared into life with one scorching voice, sparked into fury on a fine summer’s day, the flames leaping from iron grates as if they wanted nothing more than to be amongst us.
She curses him. Well, in the Broken Empire how is one to know if someone cares for them if they don’t put a big, fat, nasty curse on them. This curse is a pairing curse, and Jalan finds himself with an albatross around his neck in the form of a Viking so large that he makes other Vikings look like underfed wastrels. His size is not the problem, but his desire to launch himself into the middle of every conflict he encounters is a huge problem. See, the curse doesn’t allow Jalan to ever be very far away from the Viking, so whenever Snorri Ver Sagason decides to make a mess of blood and guts out of someone or a whole tribe of someones, Jalan is forced to be right in the middle with him.
They must break this curse before Snorri gets Jalan killed!
Now this story is running parallel to the Broken Empire trilogy starring Jorg Ancrath. Jorg and Jalan exist in the same world, but that is about as much as they have in common, and in this book they even breath the same air for a very brief amount of time. The meeting that left me chortling was between Jalan and Katherine Ap Scorron, who has a relationship with Jorg Ancrath that would be labelled complicated on Facebook. I was already wincing before there was an audible double crack. “I've always felt that the placement of a man's testicles is an eloquent argument against intelligent design.” Jalan discovers that Katherine, despite how she looks, is not a hot house orchid waiting to be plucked by any random prince who happens to find her mildly attractive.
Despite his murderous tendencies, I warmed to Jorg rather quickly, but I found myself struggling to appreciate Jalan as much as I thought I should. He is honest about himself almost to a fault, but he lacks that ambitious drive that made me begrudgingly respect Jorg. The world that Mark Lawrence has created in the Broken Empire trilogy continues to be extended in Prince of Fools. I am certainly curious as to where Lawrence will take his characters next and what more he will reveal about this world forever altered by the explosions of thousands of suns.
I’ve officially called off the search and undisclosed reward I called for to find Mark Lawrence in my review of King of Thorns. My agents must have been getting close, despite the slippery cold warrior tactics of Mr. Lawrence because he finally capitulated and sent me a signed copy of Prince of Fools. Thank you, Mark, for your generosity, but really, was it the Nubian Nightmare or the Russian Wrecker who finally made the writing pen tremble in your hand?
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