Prince of Fools (book, Mark Lawrence, 2014)

From #SFX 249.


Author: Mark Lawrence

Publisher: Harper Voyager


Fools out of thorns

With his fast-paced plots and helpings of blood, Lawrence is perhaps closest to Abercrombie in tone (not G.R.R. Martin, not matter what the cover notes might say). A companion piece to the Prince of Thorns trilogy – different prince, same world – the titular Prince of Fools is Jalan, a royal wastrel who gets dragged off on an adventure to the Arctic by a big Viking. Horrific sequences of necromancy follow.

Lawrence is a sharp writer who keeps us turning the pages with a careful balance of quips and gory incident, but this book is in other regards disappointing. We’re in a future epoch where civilisation’s returned after a nuclear war, bringing magic with it. This is rich ground for adventure, the painted backdrop we get however far from lives up to the setting’s promise. It’s rife with illogicality and there’s a degree of unimaginativeness. Compared with the dazzling fantasy future Earths of Gene Wolfe, Jack Vance, Michael Moorcock et al, the Broken Empire is badly sketched.

Prince Jalan has tendency to repeatedly tell us he’s a coward, when, of course, he has more than a hero’s measure of courage. It reminds us of all those fantasies from fifteen years ago or so that had beautiful female heroines who, for various reasons, thought they were repulsive. We can only hope this doesn’t reflect a male-equivalent trend of protagonists who loathe themselves for similarly unbelievable reasons.

Did you know?

The Broken Empire is our own Europe, its map redrawn by cataclysmic warfare and flooding. All things said, it’s a great fantasy map.