Title: Prince of Fools
Author: Mark Lawrence
Genre: Fantasy (Adult)
Date completed: February 10 2016
Goodreads rating: 4 starts
The Red Queen is old but the kings of the Broken Empire fear her as they fear no other.
Her grandson Jalan Kendeth is a coward, a cheat and a womaniser; and tenth in line to the throne. While his grandmother shapes the destiny of millions, Prince Jalan pursues his debauched pleasures. Until he gets entangled with Snorri ver Snagason, a huge Norse axe man, and dragged against his will to the icy north.
In a journey across half the Broken Empire, Jalan flees minions of the Dead King, agrees to duel an upstart prince named Jorg Ancrath, and meets the ice witch, Skilfar, all the time seeking a way to part company with Snorri before the Norseman’s quest leads them to face his enemies in the black fort on the edge of the Bitter Ice.
Experience does not lend Jalan wisdom; but here and there he unearths a corner of the truth. He discovers that they are all pieces on a board, pieces that may be being played in the long, secret war the Red Queen has waged throughout her reign, against the powers that stand behind thrones and nations, and for higher stakes than land or gold.
I didn’t intend to read Prince of Fools this year. In fact, I’d never ever heard of it, or Mark Lawrence for that matter. But the universe intervened and I ended up picking up The Liar’s Key (the second book in this series) at Adelaide airport before my flight to London because the blurb grabbed me. Think Scandinavian-esque fantasy, including a key to unlock the door to death and Loki, my favourite of all gods. Yeah, I was sold. It was only after I’d bought The Liar’s Key that I realised it’s not the first book in the series, which of course meant I had to download Prince of Fools on audible so I could get through the first book and start reading The Liar’s Key.
On the whole, I really enjoyed Prince of Fools. Everything I look at compared it to Game of Thrones, but I’m going to say straight up that that is a stupid comparison that shouldn’t be made. Yes, they’re both great, epic fantasy series, but that’s about where the similarities end.
Prince of Fools follows Prince Jarlan, your classic anti-hero young prince more concerned with wining and dining and women than with THE FATE OF HIS KINGDOM. Unfortunately for said prince he does get caught up in the fate of his kingdom, and ends up being bound (through magic) to Snorri ver Snagason (this is where the Scandinavian elements come in) and forced to travel north.
Lawrence’s world building was, in a word, superb. The world is very clearly Europe, in fact he never even tries to disguise that even though he uses different names throughout. The Broken Empire’s history seemed fascinating, and I now really want to read his Broken Empire series (his first books) so I can explore the world in more depth. The webs of political alliances and tensions, as well as tensions within each of the countries was really intriguing, and I hope the rest of the series delves more into this.
Prince of Fools definitely felt as though it was setting the reader up for things to come, almost like an incredibly long but so well written you didn’t care prologue. I was never bored, and the pace was perfect for what is essentially an epic journey from Italy to Denmark/Sweden/Norway (it’s hard to tell where exactly, just VERY far north). Everything just felt quietly suspenseful. Not in a horror film sort of way, but in the ‘this is all setting up for something intense to happen’ way. There were ‘big’ moments, but even those felt like preparation for what was to come in subsequent books. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, if it’s done right. Which it was.
The one thing that would have improved my experience reading this book would have been to have it from Snorri’s perspective, but that’s just a personal preference. Jarlan is a great character to see things through because he’s definitely not a reliable (or at times, likeable) narrator. But sometimes he was just a bit too irritating. I’m all for the anti-hero, but sometimes I just found him a bit to…well…’spoilt handsome Prince-y’ for my liking. Besides, I wanted to get more of Snorri’s backstory and feelings and things like that, seeing as the book is told through first person narration. But again, that’s just me being picky.
Overall Prince of Fools was exactly what I needed to read. It’s adult fantasy, but without so much of the sex and gore of Game of Thrones. Lawrence’s writing style was easy to read, the setting was great, the plot was great, and basically I’m just really excited to read the rest of the series because I think it’s going to be fantastic!
Also, a shout-out to Sean Ohlendorf, who narrated the audiobook I listened to. His accents were on point.