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Book Review: Prince of Thorns

G D Penman By G D Penman Published on May 19, 2016

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The Prince of Thorns is an incredibly easy book to read. Like the very best of the old pulp fantasies. It is written in the first person from the perspective of the titular Prince, a rather unhappy young man by the name of Jorg Ancrath, in a smooth and engaging voice from start to finish. Jorg is the son of one of a great many Kings living in the remains of the Shattered Empire from which the series draws its title and while treachery and murder in a fantasy book now seem to be more common than knights and dragons his family and their enemies really stand out as a bunch of assholes. The “thorns” part of his title comes from one of the formative events in his life. When assassins come for him, his mother and his younger brother, he is thrown clear of the assault into a tangle of briars where he is held restrained by the aforementioned shrub as he watches everyone he loves brutally murdered, raped and then murdered some more. You will note that his father was not listed as one of the people killed, raped or loved. If anything his father plays the role of antagonist through most of the book. For as terrible as Jorg's fury is towards the neighbouring king who had his family killed it is infinitely more intense for the man who turned their deaths into a political bargaining chip to gain more lands and a few horses. It is no small wonder that the boy ran away from home and joined a roving pack of bandits with such an exemplary role model at home.

The only thorn in my side as I began this book was the strange switching of genres between fantastical historical drama and outright fantasy. There were repeated references to things that exist only in our world so their inclusion in the Prince of Thorns had me constantly flitting back and forth between believing it was some sort of alternate history and clumsiness on the author's part. This all resolved itself rather neatly after a short while, when it became apparent that the world is in fact earth, not in an alternate history but rather in a distant future. The cultures that are clear parallels to medieval ones are simply the form that the rebuilding of civilisation has taken, presumably with a few hints and tips from the surviving literature of the past. Once you have that realisation, and the following realisation that somehow technology had looped so far around as to become magic once more, the setting clicks into place perfectly. Having said all that in its favour there is a little too much of the generic European fantasy setting at play, including everyone of a race other than Caucasian being treated as “exotic,” and the odd defaulting to feudal societies.

There has been much discussion of the hero's journey in fantasy fiction and whether deliberately or by accident you can see the pattern of that journey being repeated over and over in almost every genre. It is refreshing to read a book where the character is not only a villain but the entire plot is driven by his selfish ambition and determination to come out on top of the cesspit world he happens to occupy. The action of the book rushes you along past the sparsely inhabited river-banks of the plot and the characterisation of the despicable people in every walk of life that Jorg encounters and frequently murders is a perfect fit for the grim tone of the book. The Prince of Thorns is not a perfect book, but it is a lot of fun and the continuation and conclusion promise to be equally engaging.

G.D. Penman writes about queer monsters for a living. He is the author of Call Your Steel, The Year of the Knife, Heart of Winter, Apocrypha and many other books. He is also a full-time freelance ... Show More

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