Prince of Fools by Mark Lawrence

June 24, 2014 Reviews 4 ★★★★½

Prince of Fools by Mark LawrencePrince of Fools (The Red Queen's War #1) by Mark Lawrence
Published: June 5th 2014 by HarperVoyager
Format: ARC, 512 pages
Genres: Fantasy
Source: Publisher
Goodreads BooktopiaBookworld
4.5 Stars

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.

Excellent books are rare. Excellent books with a protagonist you love to hate are rarer. And yet, here I am, absolutely enthralled by Prince of Fools, even as I want to jump inside the pages and kill Jalan.

The world is exquisite, the adventure heart-pumping, the characters well written and realistic. Prince of Fools is a book to love.

I really dislike Jalan. A cowardly, unthinking, and selfish waste of space, Prince Jalan Kendeth lacks morality and basic human decency. He drinks, gambles and wenches his way through life, barely stopping to take note of others. But he’s written so damned well that I couldn’t put his book down! Every page of this novel provides us with a wonderfully quotable quote that made me second guess my morality and selflessness, and reluctantly agree with Jalan’s unconventional assessment of life. Damn the man. Damn him to Hel!

Enter Snorri ver Snagason, a fierce Viking warrior sold into slavery by his enemy, and bought by the Red Queen because of the tale he tells of corpses brought to life and a key that can open any door. Jalan becomes magically bound to Snorri and is reluctantly dragged half way across the Broken Empire to help him rescue his family. Snorri is everything Jalan is not: brave, decent, and fiercely loyal, and he makes an excellent companion for the wayward prince.

Fans of Lawrence’s earlier, related works about Jorg Ancrath (The Broken Empire) will delight in the little clues and allusions that are peppered throughout Prince of Fools. There are familiar characters running around and it’s refreshing to see both them and Jorg in a totally different light. Jalan’s story is happening in the same world and the two stories sometimes cross paths with entertaining results.

The world of Prince of Fools is masterfully crafted, as we’ve come to expect from this author, and I’ve really enjoyed getting to know it better. A word of warning though: the bitter cold of the North is described in such amazing detail that I had to indulge in many cups of hot chocolate to stave off the chill! This is one of my very favourite story worlds – I will gladly return to it at every opportunity, if only to see things that are familiar to me in a totally new light!

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My only disappointment comes from the lack of women, and particularly women with meaningful roles, in the book. Oh yes, there’s the Red Queen, and I can see Serah and Aslaug becoming awesome (hopefully) in future instalments, but oh how I would have loved female characters who weren’t whores or crones. Or dead. Or severely lacking in ambition and character depth. Lawrence put so much work into crafting his awesome male-fighting-duo, but where are all the awesome women? I know we’re seeing all the women in the book from Jalan’s eyes, and he’s a sexist douche-canoe if there ever was one, but I think Lawrence missed the opportunity to do something really cool here. Prince of Fools is a story about men doing things, and I accept that, but I don’t think this story calls for all the women to be as flat and ultimately useless as they are.

I enjoyed the plot of this novel immensely – it’s absolutely my style of story with the Reluctant Hero, an Epic Quest, and a Level 500 Magical Item with bonus Evil add-ons. It is, I think, more my kind of story than The Broken Empire books.

If you’ve enjoyed Lawrence’s other series, then you should be picking be up Prince of Fools and giving it a go! If you’re afraid that the magic of Jorg can’t be matched, then let me assure you that Jalan has his own charms. And if you have no idea who Mark Lawrence is, and have never heard of his books, then I suggest you run out and grab a copy of this book as soon as you can! Prince of Fools will not disappoint!

4 Responses to “Prince of Fools by Mark Lawrence”

  1. Nathan (@reviewbarn)

    I kinda like the crone for some reason, but I agree, we need more of the Red Queen and her Silent Sister. Like, at least half a book, because the potential is there.

    • Shaheen

      Maybe a prequel? Or a series of novellas?

      Actually, even though I said the above in jest, one of the things Brian McClellan did is to write a series of novellas focussing on awesome females in his world, after he had unfortunately neglected to give any of his female characters any significant agency in his début, Promise of Blood. Which was awesome!

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