Prince of Fools is the first in a new series – The Red Queen’s War – by Mark Lawrence who wrote the Broken Empire trilogy. This new series is set in the same world as The Broken Empire, but focusses on a different set of characters. Emperor of Thorns was one of my top reads for 2013, so I had high expectations of Prince of Fools – I’m happy to say it lived up to them.
What I liked
The setting. Both Red Queen’s War and Broken Empire trilogy are set in a world which is strongly implied to be ours many millennia after a cataclysmic event (the “thousand suns”) in which magic plays a part. Some references to our world bleed through but often in an almost unrecognisable form. It’s a great deal of fun spotting these references. These are very subtle – for example our protagonists meet a circus elephant, who is, of course, called Nellie. A week later I still can’t get the children’s song out of my brain and now you can’t either. You’re welcome.
Anyway to return to the setting. One very interesting choice Lawrence made with the Red Queen’s War trilogy is to set it concurrently with the events of Broken Empire. Certain events make it clear where in the events of the narrative of the first trilogy this second series is set. Indeed, the protagonists of Prince of Fools actually cross paths with those of Broken Empire at one point. This intersection of storylines doesn’t seem to have affected either at this point, but it will be interesting to see if there are more such instances.
Choice of antagonist. Another interesting aspect is that it is implied that both series share the same Big Bad. Given that those of us who have read the first series believe we know how this ends, some good questions are raised. Did Broken Empire end the way we think it did? What will Jal’s role be? Will there be a different threat for Jal to face in the end? I should point out that it is not necessary to have read Broken Empire to enjoy Prince of Fools, but it will add extra layers to the enjoyment.
The characters. One of Lawrence’s real skills as a writer is in writing three dimensional, fully developed characters and he has done the same here for Jalan Kendeth. Jalan is very different to Jorg Ancrath of the Broken Empire, but still a very engaging character. Whereas Jorg was a broken spirit even from when we first got to know him, Jal is perfectly content with his life and focussed on little more than his own pleasures and self preservation until he is drawn into this adventure against his will. At this point, Jalan himself wouldn’t claim much depth of character beyond his interests in women and wine, but there are hints of good character development and knowing Lawrence’s writing, there is an interesting character arc ahead of him. I look forward to seeing where it goes.
I also enjoyed the contrasts between Jalan and Snorri. They are portrayed as being complete opposites in every way, both physically and character wise. Jalan is dark haired and better suited to running away than fighting, whereas Snorri is tall, blond and built like the Hulk. Personality wise, Snorri is straightforward, honourable and focussed on others, whereas Jalan is definitely more self centred. There are many light/dark references to the two of them and I look forward to seeing how that plays out in future books.
The narration. The narration was done by Tim Gerard Reynolds and while I enjoyed it, I would say it was competent rather than fantastic.
What I didn’t like.
There was nothing I didn’t like about Prince of Fools. I gave it four and a half stars out of five,