- Author: Mark Lawrence
- Publisher: Ace
- Publication Date: 3rd June 2014
- Pages: 355
Mark Lawrence had a strong debut with The Broken Empire trilogy. After finishing the final book in that trilogy (#3 Emperor of Thorns), I found that Lawrence was writing another trilogy called The Red Queen’s War. My initial reaction was, “There is no way he could write a better character than Jorg of Ancrath.” Well, I was wrong. Kind of.
Prince of Fools is a tremendous novel, along with a very brave-coward protagonist.
The Red Queen’s grandson, Prince Jalan Kendeth, is a failure to her. A coward for a grandson, a womanizer instead of a well-mannered prince, but Jalan doesn’t have remorse. He is a lawless man in a lawful empire. But, some threats are waiting for him. He is not chosen, but he is not given a choice. Along with Snorri Ver Snagason, he has to save the empire, but his interest is merely personal.
A journey to the icy north begins. Jalan wouldn’t enjoy this, not a little bit.
Jalan Kendeth is a fascinating choice for a protagonist. His personality is an amalgamation of humor and sombre. His miseries are a cause for humor, and his triumph moments carry a sad tone.
I believe that it is very hard to develop a funny character because often these characters are the ‘relief’ in a serious novel. They are static, and they do not change throughout the novel. We can see the evidence in Lawrence’s debut trilogy, The Broken Empire. Jorg of Ancrath’s tale was of revenge. It had humor, but it mainly arose from the side-characters. Mark took a different approach, and the result is tremendous.
Jalan Kendeth is a fresh character because he lacks the cliche we may find in novels. He has no motivations; the story is not of any importance to him: he is in it because of personal reasons. But, none of these traits falters him as a character; he succeeds because of this new take that we rarely find.
Jal is not alone in his journey. He has a Norseman for a companion. YAY! A Norseman is the last person you would want for a companion, and apparently, Jal thinks the same. Snorri Ver Snagason is a humongous beast, someone you may stare in the crowd and wish he wouldn’t stare back. But, saying he is a dangerous man would be like telling a campfire story without a campfire. Half the fun. He is surprisingly emotional.
As they go on their quest, Snorri’s motivations are dictated to us (and to Jal) through a third-person narration. It presents a break from the first-person storytelling we experience through the eyes of Jalan, which makes it incredibly striking. Snorri as a character contradicts Jalan. He is everything Jal is not, brave, courageous, thoughtful (unless you count curing “brothel-rash” thoughtful).
One of the most prominent directions Mark Lawrence took with this story is character development. Jorg Ancracth’s story was a solo mission from beginning till the end, and anyone who came in between that mission wasn’t fully developed because the focus was always Jorg. Prince of Fools is devoid of it.
The relationship between Snorri and Jal is very striking. Lawrence presents you with two people, entirely different personalities, and then we see them develop through the story. They influence each other: you may not notice it until the end, but you do eventually.
Numerous side characters seamlessly enter the story and leave it without altering much. You will see a few characters from The Broken Empire Trilogy, and they are delightful. New characters are developed very well in a short span. Of course, Mark could have spent more time with them, but then the novel would drag needlessly, diminishing the impact of an already lazy finale.
Mark Lawrence has one skill that I think distinguishes him from other fantasy writers. He can create likeable characters in a very short span of time (trilogy), but the attention to detail doesn’t deteriorate due to this and what we get is a thoroughly well-written novel with characters we want to root for.
Prince of Fools is the epitome of his writing skills. Lawrence doesn’t rush towards any scene, but rather he let the scene carve itself out. In this form, Mark and we are watching a story unfold before our eyes.
The balance between quiet and violent scenes is tremendous. He does not linger on a scene for too long, nor does he waste any time writing action: which is a problem. The build-up to the finale hints at a big fight, this epic moment between good and evil; the evil villain whom our heroes pledge to destroy.
Mark doesn’t stop the momentum from building, right until the final pages of the book. There is no significant encounter (he is probably saving it for remaining books in the trilogy). The final battle is very short, and it feels unrewarding because we have been with these characters on their journey, and this abrupt stop to the tension and action leaves a sour taste in the mouth.
The quiet moments, character driven scenes, are gorgeous. Even in action, Mark finds beauty. The perfect example occurs at the end of chapter one where Jalan is running from a prince. The chapter closes with the following lines:
“I set off sprinting in the direction of the palace, sending rats fleeing and scattering dungmen on their rounds, the dawn chasing after me, throwing red spears at my back.”
The novel in brimmed with these small scenes which turn even the most redundant situations into an ideal scenario.
The only problem with Prince of Fools is its pacing. It’s uneven, often very slow and suddenly very fast.
The first few chapters are very fast paced, but it loses that momentum almost instantly and becomes a little dull and boring. Snorri and Jalan travel together, and their journey feels stretched. Their path, from point A to B, seems long and tedious.
Of course, whatever happens during these events is important to the story, but sometimes it feels like the tale is taking too long to pick up again. The book is long, and long books often tend to fall into this pit, and Prince of Fools doesn’t stay in it for too long because the action is momentous, and excites you to read the next chapter.
Should you read Prince of Fools?
Yes. If you like a well-written fantasy, then the answer is a big yes. Mark Lawrence presents another anti-hero. Someone you will despise, but praise in his glorious moments.
A vast variety of characters with a well-written plot woven together by compelling writing makes this novel one of his best (not saying much because he wrote only six novels). The pacing drags for a while, but Prince of Fools is an incredible work of fantasy fiction. A book you will love to devour.
“When there are no choices, men are equally brave.” – Jalan Kendeth