BOOK REVIEW – Prince of Fools  (The Red Queen’s War #1) by Mark LawrencePrince of Fools (The Red Queen's War)
by Mark Lawrence
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The Red Queen is old but the kings of the Broken Empire dread her like no other. For all her reign, she has fought the long war, contested in secret, against the powers that stand behind nations, for higher stakes than land or gold. Her greatest weapon is The Silent Sister—unseen by most and unspoken of by all.

The Red Queen’s grandson, Prince Jalan Kendeth—drinker, gambler, seducer of women—is one who can see The Silent Sister. Tenth in line for the throne and content with his role as a minor royal, he pretends that the hideous crone is not there. But war is coming. Witnesses claim an undead army is on the march, and the Red Queen has called on her family to defend the realm. Jal thinks it’s all a rumor—nothing that will affect him—but he is wrong.

After escaping a death trap set by the Silent Sister, Jal finds his fate magically intertwined with a fierce Norse warrior. As the two undertake a journey across the Empire to undo the spell, encountering grave dangers, willing women, and an upstart prince named Jorg Ancrath along the way, Jalan gradually catches a glimmer of the truth: he and the Norseman are but pieces in a game, part of a series of moves in the long war—and the Red Queen controls the board.

The day I give a 3 to Mark Lawrence’s work isn’t a good day in my book. Now, if I refer to the GR scale, a 3 means that I liked it, so it’s by no means a bad rating. Anyway, I wasn’t blown away and couldn’t give it more, sadly. Would I have loved Prince of Fools more if I wasn’t such a fan of Jorg of Ancrath? Maybe.

The fact is, even though Jalan and Snorri’s journey contains several sparks of awesomeness, they were unfortunately too often drowned in a river of boredom.

✐ As usual with Mark Lawrence, we get a beautiful writing filled with gems full of wit and grit, with many quotable dialogues and thoughts and a wonderful power of evocation. It’s rare enough to point, isn’t it?

“Cold has its own taste. It tastes of a bitten tongue. It coils around you, a living thing, a beast that means to kill you, not with wrath, not with tooth nor claw, but with the mercy of surrender, with the kindness of letting you go gentle into the long night after such a burden of pain and misery.”

If you read Prince of Thorns, you must know that Mark Lawrence’s fantasy is very character driven and involves a lot of travelling, characteristics which didn’t bother me at all in the trilogy devoted to my favorite little bastard, aka Jorg. But let’s face it : from the beginning of Prince of Thorns, I was completely and utterly fascinated by this sick devil and I came through the three books under his spell. God, I miss him. While here, if by no means Jalan and Snorri are uninteresting characters, they often missed this little something which could pull me in completely, and sadly, I felt slightly underwhelmed most of the time.

Not that the plot isn’t interesting : a spark of old magic, a bunch of dead men rising and a curse to counter, the whole thing wrapped in Nordic Mythology and served by a world that The Broken Empire trilogy‘s readers will easily recognize and enjoy rediscovering. For the Broken Empire noobs, a few words (yes, I can be nice like that) : Picture Europe. Now, add several explosions of atomic bombs. Yeah, not funny-funny. Jump in time, let’s say, a few centuries or so. You’ve got the Broken Empire, a medieval setting where technologies have been banned and then, forgotten. Due to an unfortunate spell, Jalan and Snorri are bound by magic and so… stuck together, for better or for worst. Then follows a journey through the Empire’s realms, each one fraught with danger and enemies.

I know, it looks fantastic. And more I write about it, more I can’t understand why I didn’t fall in love with this story, which seems on theory the kind that I would love – I just didn’t. Sadly I never felt enthralled nor captivated and as I said earlier, I was too often bored to enjoy my read as much as I wanted to. The truth is, despite the fights and the meetings, the story sometimes seemed full of nothing to me, it struggled to keep me interested and above that, involved. Indeed I felt losing my attention at some point, my mind wandering until I had to reread sentences because I didn’t focus enough. Sigh.

Same old, same old…

If I’m being frank, the main problem I have with this book is the fact that it shares some of the same antagonists as The Broken Empire trilogy, and, you know… I know how it ends. That’s why even if I was eager to take a look at Jorg no, I’m not creepy – okay, not too much, at least (I think), and enjoyed being in The Broken Empire again, I think I would have preferred Prince of Fools if I didn’t read Emperor of Thorns before. Because, the Dead King? Guys, I know who he is. In my opinion my experience would have been better if I had read this one between King of Thorns and Emperor of Thorns, because everything I learnt in Jorg’s last book influenced my interest, reducing it for sure.

However, I absolutely adored the Friendship slowly growing between Jalan and Snorri. I know, FRIENDSHIP! Not romance! How refreshing is that? Look at it this way : if Snorri was a woman, their bound and their connection would be just… oh my god so predictable and lame! While here, it was a pleasure to witness their interactions and misunderstandings.

But wait – Did I say that Jalan and Snorri were delightfully different? Noooo? OMG. Let’s introduce them, shall we?

As usual with Mark Lawrence, what makes the book its strength is the almost flawless characterization. Indeed contrary to what we might think at first, every character is multi-layered and way more complicated than he appears. Moreover, as for Jorg, they evolve in a believable way, that is to say, really, really gradually. Because what is more annoying that characters who change in a heartbeat, I’m asking? None of this crap here, nope. In Mark Lawrence’s books, no about-turn, but slow growth. I can’t express how much I love that.

▣ First of all, let’s meet Prince Jalan.

“I’m a liar and a cheat and a coward, but I will never, ever, let a friend down. Unless of course not letting down requires honesty, fair play, or bravery.”

Ah, Jalan. Remember Ezio at the beginning of Assassin’s Creed 2? That’s Jalan for you. Womanizer. Coward. Selfish. Weak. And yet, when we compare to the absolute asshole that was Jorg, he’s kind of likeable. Astounding right? I’m going to repeat what I wrote in my review from Prince of Thorns : While I can’t hate more all these crappy, controlling and sexist male-leads we get in many books, especially in romance, I can appreciate a character who shares their flaws if nobody tells me that I’m supposed to drool over him, and if his behavior isn’t pictured as normal and acceptable. So, yes, I hate, I LOATHE casual sexism and this kind of comments makes me want to throw something. Yes. But as far as I’m concerned, creating an unlikeable character as an anti-hero isn’t the same thing as trying to convince people that it’s okay to be an asshole. Because, you know, it’s not. And yes, I wanted to slap Jalan sometimes, especially when he dropped comments about women. But do I need to love him to read his story? Nope.

So, Jalan. Will he learn to care for somebody else than himself during their quest? I guess I’ll let you discover it for yourself! 😉

▣ And then, there’s Snorri, the Nordic warrior who respects his promises and whose courage is amazing. Could we find more different than Jalan? I’m not sure of it. His goal? To save his wife and his child who’ve been kidnapped by some enemy whose acquaintances are rather unsavoury (Dead King, anyone?). Nothing can hold his course, and there’s some precious Prince who’s going to learn it the hard way (yes, Jal’, I’m so talking about you here). Now, he does have his own inner demons and isn’t perfect either, as we slowly learn it.

✘ Now, I need to complain about something that bothered me : Where are the women? Seriously. It’s almost frightening to see how this world lacks of women. Men, men, men, everywhere. So, yes. There’s the Red Queen, Jalan’s grand-mother, yes. But despite her position, her involvement in the story stays really thin, as for every single woman in this book. They always stay in the background, and rarely talk (except for the beginning), even when they are powerful (the Silent Sister, Chella…) That’s why despite their apparitions, it gives the impression that men make the show and men only, and I didn’t like that. There. I said it.

► If you read Prince of Thorns and didn’t stand my favorite little cutthroat (seriously?), you might enjoy this one more for sure.

► If you read Prince of Thorns and were bored, I’m not sure that this one will be better for you, but, you know, I’m no fortune teller.

► If you read Prince of Thorns and absolutely adored it, you’ll either like or love this one, so, yeah, what are you waiting for?

► If you never read Prince of Thorns , you… Wait – WHAT?

➸ As a conclusion, take my rating as an average more than anything else, because if I loved the flawed and complex characters, I can’t deny that they weren’t enough to hold my interest throughout the 500 pages of this book – even if meeting again with the characters from Prince of Thorns was wonderful (I need more Jorg, though). As it is, I’ll read the sequel, because I trust Mark Lawrence to offer us some great twists and I hope that I’ll reach the involvement that was mine in Jorg’s story and that was sadly absent here. Make me care, dammit!

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