Honorous Jorg Ancr…wait…this isn’t about Jorg. Immediately upon the reveal of the title Prince of Fools, comparisons were drawn between it and Mark Lawrence’s debut, Prince of Thorns. Doubts were cast as to whether Lawrence could write a non-Jorg character or not. Both of them have prince in the title and both feature an eponymous young prince. Surely they must be the same, right? Wrong. The prince in Lawrence’s second series is Jalan Kendeth of the Red March, tenth in line to the throne of his grandmother, the Red Queen. Jalan and Jorg are nothing alike. Where Jorg was an ambitious teenager out for vengeance – and willing to commit all manner of horrors to fulfill his ambition – Jalan is content with boozing, gambling, and womanizing. He’s a man with no ambition of his own, a coward and a lair.
The Red Queen is guided by the unseen (except for few, Jalan included) Silent Sister, and she sees a war looming – an army of undead creatures is on the doorstep of the Red March. Jalan, in his content-with-the-world nature, refuses to believe the rumors, as if doing so would make them untrue. Eventually the truth is forced upon him, and Jalan finds himself attached – bonded even, through dark magic – to Snorri ver Snagason, a massive warrior from the frozen north. Jalan’s cowardly nature has him riding the coattails of Snorri toward the Norseman’s homeland with the hope of breaking the spell that binds them.
Jalan’s character contrasts so starkly with Jorg’s that it took me a while to get used to Jalan running from any and every conflict he encounters. Where Jorg’s psychotic tendencies were utterly fascinating to read about, Jalan’s character takes some time but becomes endearing rather quickly in the grand scheme of things. He’s a very likable character. Despite being a self-proclaimed coward, he continually shows courageous tendencies, as the hulking Snorri likes to remind him. It’s as the late, great, David Gemmell wrote in Legend: “By nature of definition only the coward is capable of the highest heroism.” Jalan’s denial of his courage is a trademark of Prince of Fools, and it goes hand in hand with the other big theme we’re presented with – friendship.
Snorri ver Snagason is not your average lumbering Viking. He’s not G.R.R.M.’s The Mountain. He’s a surprisingly learned individual and is absolutely more than meets the eye. People jokingly wondered whether Lawrence was capable of writing characters who weren’t despicable in some way. Prince of Fools has their answer. Lawrence’s beautifully vivid but concise prose does wonders to bring to life the dynamic duo of Jalan and Snorri as their friendship develops throughout the story, and it’s actually kind of heartwarming.
Prince of Fools, while not strictly as outright dark as Lawrence’s Broken Empire trilogy, still contains its fair share of horror (and humor to boot). Creatures known as the Unborn are sent by the Dead King for whatever purpose he desires, and they are significantly more threatening than your average moaning, BRAAIINS-hungry zombie. The horror and darkness that are inherently embedded in the world of the Broken Empire are countered by the witty humor that is created when Jalan and Snorri are together. It’s a perfect blend. Prince, King, and Emperor of Thorns all left me emotionally drained. This newest work is equally compelling, but in a different, not-so-draining way.
Fans of Lawrence’s debut trilogy need fear nothing when it comes to whether they’ll enjoy Prince of Fools or not. There’s no slump here. New readers stumbling across Lawrence may find this as an easier entry point than Prince of Thorns, and they certainly can, but the effectiveness of the brief but awesome encounter with Jorg and his Brothers will be lost.
Prince of Fools is a powerful tale of friendship and courage in a broken world, and it effectively cements Mark Lawrence on my list of favorite authors (a prestigious place to be, I assure you).