It's a generally accepted fact that good ideas don't make a good book. Great authors have time and again taken mediocre or even patently bad book ideaIt's a generally accepted fact that good ideas don't make a good book. Great authors have time and again taken mediocre or even patently bad book ideas and turned them into something special. On the other, more relevant hand, some authors have generated tremendous ideas and promptly squandered them with lousy books. This book is an example of the latter.
Once upon a time, there lived a grim and grisly fantasy world where mankind huddles in fear behind magical wards as demons rise from the earth each night to kill and devour the unprotected, but legend speaks of the lost combat wards and the second coming of the Deliverer who will drive the demons from the land and reclaim the earth for mankind. Cool idea, right? Absolutely! In fact, it's even better than you think. The demons are varied, interesting and nasty; the art of warding has lots of interesting subtleties; and diverse cultures have developed in a world dominated by the threat of the demons. It's good stuff. Really it is. But those are just ideas. Let's talk about the book.
Let's start with the word "yucky". G.K. Chesterton famously stated that a great novel tells the reader the truth about himself, where a bad novel tells the truth about the author. What I learned about Mr. Brett is not to go snooping around on his hard drive if I ever find myself borrowing his laptop. Rape, gang rape, child rape, child sodomy, and incest all feature heavily in his books. To be fair, consensual sex is also proudly displayed with a sweaty slathering of painstaking detail, sometimes even back to back with the violent stuff, so...yeah. I can't recommend it, but if that's what you're into...well, seek help.
There is a main character. He's real good at warding, hates his father, and his motivation is to advance the story. I just finished the book a week or two ago and already can't remember his name or really anything else about him except for the titular wards. We see him grow from a whiny self-pitying child to a whiny self-pitying monstrosity of demon slaying power. How you ask? I don't know. Every time something interesting starts happening the book skips forward five years. It's the Raymond Feist school of conflict resolution: build up to it then skip to after everything's done and tell the reader that it was cool, sorry you missed it. That's not to say that the book doesn't have action. There are actually some great action sequences in the first two books, but with the exception of the final battle in book one, they mostly just act as filler. The real guts of the book, how he becomes the warded man, what the wards actually do, what he's going to do when he gets over his raging self-pity, are all glossed over with a wave of the hand and another anecdote about incest.
I went back and read book two, and I'll admit that it improved things a bit, but not enough. When all is said and done, this book is nothing more than a huge waste of potential. Mr. Brett had more ideas than he was ready to develop and the story suffers for it. What remains holds the promise of a great story lurking in there somewhere, but it's drowned in weak writing, weak characters, and a too-timid approach to its main conflicts....more
Prince of Thorns was like the first flash of fireworks: brilliant, surprising, and punctuated with a chest-shuddering bang. King of Thorns was the strPrince of Thorns was like the first flash of fireworks: brilliant, surprising, and punctuated with a chest-shuddering bang. King of Thorns was the streaming sparks that follow, not so bright or dazzling, but still a sight to behold as they burn shallow troughs in the night sky, hissing and sizzling on their way.
Emperor of Thorns was the bad smell that lingers after the show is over.
I've written extensively on the merits of Prince. My review was a work of love, pointing out its flaws out of a sense of duty, imagining that my criticism could reach back in time to when Mr. Lawrence was working on the sequels and inspire grand improvements. It's silly, but I feel compelled to do it anyway. I picked up King hoping that Mr. Lawrence had matured as a writer and had discovered new depths of talent to lend to his promising story. I was disappointed to discover that all of the flaws had remained and flourished and many of the virtues had crumbled under their own weight. The fierce psychotic edge that defined the first book had dulled in the interests of a more mature and likable character, coming to grips with his own shortcomings and begrudgingly striving toward higher moral ground. Unfortunately, the moral high ground was never reached and the gritty depths were left behind and poor Jorg was left on the Spartan hillside. Of course the story still held up pretty well. His exploits were memorable, his strategies clever, and his accomplishments satisfying. So, all in all, King was a success, but something short of a triumph. Luckily there was still plenty of slack to make a grand comeback in the third book.
Emperor begins with the long journey to Congression, the meeting at which an emperor can be elected, but which generally stalls out in squabbling between the various kings. If you've been following the story up to this point, you know that this is the light at the end of our tunnel, the apex of our achievement, the glorious finale to our tale. The journey is relatively uneventful. Jorg has some bad dreams, his wife has a baby, they attack a monster which frightens but doesn't harm them and is quickly dispatched by a rookie magician. Meanwhile, the Dead King is making his big move, drowning the land in death and anarchy, but it's all happening behind Jorg's group, so it never seems all that real or interesting. Somehow the coming apocalypse came off as something to be discussed with a frustrated shake of the head over coffee and a danish.
"Pity about all of Britain being killed and turned into an army of the dead." "Yes. Interest rates are pretty bad too."
Really, it just doesn't connect. There's some ooh-ing and ah-ing about the lichkin and their unstoppable power, but except for killing a village, which is less than par for fantasy death monsters, they never really do anything. They don't move the plot forward or present an involving conflict. Mostly they stand there and look threatening. The same can be said of the Dead King himself. Mr. Lawrence says many times how scary he is, but it's never really shown. Most of his victims he kills by getting one of his lackeys to poison their ale. Even the grand unveiling of his sinister origin was a yawn moment for me.
Anyway, back to the story. What follows may seem like spoilers, but if you hadn't already guessed that it was going to happen, you haven't been paying much attention. Jorg and his wife and newborn take a long boring trip, stopping now and then to murder someone just to keep up the theme, and finally arrive at Congression. Once there, Jorg continues to murder people and get his friends to murder people until he has killed everyone who won't vote for him. The Dead King arrives and is quickly killed by the sheer force of Jorg's will. There's some mumbo jumbo about the Builders and the Empire but really the story climaxes in an extended staring contest. There are a couple of minor surprises, or what were supposed to be surprises, that I'll leave for you to discover, but by and large that's the story: about a hundred pages worth of walking around, thinking dirty thoughts about his aunt, and killing people.
So why is the book upwards of 400 pages long, you ask. Well, that's the really annoying part. The book jumps back and forth between the road to Congression and four or five different flashback timelines. None of them is all that interesting. One has no purpose at all except for trying unsuccessfully to recover some of the shock value that petered out in the last book. The rest try to shoehorn in a handful of weak subplots that ultimately are resolved by even more mighty willpower a.k.a. staring. It reads like a notebook full of the half-developed ideas and fatty tidbits that his editor hacked out of the first two books. The prose is sloppy, the characters are uninteresting and disposable, and they do little to prop up the crumbling series finale.
The real icing on the cake, though, is the afterword. After 434 pages of half-baked boredom, Mr. Lawrence felt the need to add an apologetic note. He says he's sorry the series is over and that it went with a piteous fart instead of a bang, but justifies himself by saying that he didn't want to stretch out the series and wear out his welcome. He didn't want Jorg to be that guy that's still around doing the same old thing eight books later, and so decided to kill the series while it was in its prime. At last, he leaves us with these inspiring words: "I also very much hope you'll buy my next book!"
I couldn't bring myself to give it just one star, because it started out so well. The story follows Valentine Michael Smith, a man raised by MartiansI couldn't bring myself to give it just one star, because it started out so well. The story follows Valentine Michael Smith, a man raised by Martians and endowed with good looks, genius intellect, prodigious wealth, global fame, and, as a bonus, telepathy, telekinesis, and other supernatural goodies. The first two thirds or so of the book deal with the thorny problem of introducing a perfectly innocent man of immense power and resources into an unstable political theater. Politicians, businessmen, and religious leaders all try to manipulate, misdirect, or murder him, and he is seemingly oblivious to the implications. The issue becomes even more complex when Mike demonstrates the power to make people and objects that he sees as "wrong" cease to exist, and we discover that the Martians that raised him have similar god-like powers and have extinguished entire species who they judged to be "wrongness". Luckily for planet Earth, good friends, his water-brothers, help him survive the conflict and understand human life. They strike a deal with the government and all conflicts are resolved.
The book could have ended there and I would have been pretty pleased with it. As is, the book continues as Michael begins his exploration of religion and the sexual revolution. The world is dominated by a neo-neo-pentacostal sect that embraces the orgy as their ultimate religious ceremony, and vets their highest-ranking members according to attractiveness and willingness. Mike disapproves of them by and large, going so far as to murder the church's leader on a whim, but sees no problem in mimicking their methods and jumping into bed with middle-aged nymphomaniacs if it will help them grok him.
It was about that point that I put the book down. I tried to stick with it just to see if it would eventually wander back into the realm of sci-fi political thriller, but after a while I was skimming over pages at a time while Mr. Heinlein catalogued the abominable heresies of the orgy church and the blissful ecstasies of Martian free love....more
This book is ideal for all of you who read "A Clockwork Orange" and thought to yourselves, "That was good, but it would be so much better if it had leThis book is ideal for all of you who read "A Clockwork Orange" and thought to yourselves, "That was good, but it would be so much better if it had less of that social commentary crap and more rape and violence. In fact, could we replace the government types with kings and wizards, get rid of the silly street speak, and just have him roam about the countryside killing and pillaging and generally making a nuisance of himself?" For all of you that thought that, your prayers are answered in Mark Lawrence's debut novel, Prince of Thorns.
So, this is a story about Prince Jorg, the psychopath. I don't mean, "Wow, that guy's really weird" psychopath; I mean full-on humankind-is-beneath-me, torture-is-my-hobby, sexual-addiction-to-killing psychopath. This isn't a spoiler, since the first scene of the book is actually him and his goons wandering around looting the corpses of helpless villagers, collecting heads, and doing even nastier things. As the story progresses, you are left no illusions as to the main character's mental health. You learn about how his mother and brother were brutally killed before his eyes while he hung watching helplessly from a patch of poisonous hook-briars (thus the title), and went violently insane while he clung to life in the following weeks of recovery. At ten years old or so, he takes to the road with a bunch of bandits and for a few years makes his living killing people. When he turns fourteen, he decides he's going to be emperor of the 100 constantly warring local kingdoms and sets out to make himself such with the help of a whole bunch of disposable bloodthirsty sidekicks. He murders, he manipulates, he murders some more, he threatens, he murders, he postures, he commits genocide...you get the picture. So, this has been my official warning to all those who are offended by extremely inappropriate or criminal behavior, bloody graphic violence, foul language, or just plain evil main characters.
That much being said, I loved this book.
True, it had it's flaws. There were some parts so cheesy I couldn't help but read them in the voice of a thirteen-year-old, inwardly guffawing at the most blushworthy parts. True, I hope my nieces and nephews never pick it up. True, there were several coincidences that made me roll my eyes. Yes, I found many of the characters two-dimensional, predictable, and stupid. Yes, sometimes the prose read like it was copy and pasted from angsty metal lyrics. And it's true, the main character sometimes made my skin crawl.
Still, I really truly enjoyed this book.
Now, don't get me wrong. I'm the first to crucify an author for insulting his readers' intelligence and good taste, whether it be with obvious shock-factor fodder or his own sexual fantasies. This book was not that. Jorg was an honestly revolting character, but he was exactly that: honest. And you loved him by the end. Actually, come to think of it, it's hard to say why he's so likable. Maybe it's the way he tells the story of his heinous exploits and quietly aggrandizes himself and his actions in the true fashion of a fourteen year old. Maybe it's the way the weaknesses and insecurities of a young boy pop up now and then, even in the middle of plotting a torturous death for his enemies. Maybe it was that he had every opportunity to be a 100% two-dimensional, archetypal, uninteresting thug, and instead he was a dynamic anti-hero that you couldn't help but cheer for. His callous nature made his rare surges of emotion all the more potent; his unflinching brutality made his meager affections and loyalties seem like the depths of selflessness; his refusal to pity himself even when everything that could go wrong did so made you feel like his complete lack of pity for others was forgivable. Then he would turn around and stab someone in the throat and you'd just sigh and mentally pat him on the head. I felt manipulated. I was okay with that. It was weird. It was cool. It was really really impressive for a first time author.
Now, just because I liked something doesn't mean it's perfect. I've mentioned some of the book's minor shortcomings, but I'd like to point out the one really big one. In stories, coincidences happen. When they happen to get a character into trouble, it's called conflict, and is very good and important if you want interesting plot and characters. Think of any good story. In fact, think of Toy Story: Buzz gets knocked out of window by lamp. Holy crow what a coincidence! He could have fallen anywhere, the lamp could have missed, the whole chain reaction leading up to the lamp swinging around could have gone wrong at any point, but the coincidence incites a much more interesting story than a rivalry between a couple of toys. Pick another, any other, and you'll find that coincidences getting characters into trouble is a common theme. On the other hand, coincidences to get characters out of trouble are called cheating. Prince of Thorns does it constantly. I don't mean that it does it once at the end to tie up some loose ends, because that's forgivable. It happens all the time. At times it's even kind of comical, even though it doesn't mean to be. If I had chosen the grab line on the front of the book, it would have been, "Wow! Lucky!" because the words kept popping into my head every couple chapters. "What? Insurmountable obstacle? Holy secret book that I just happen to find and am the only one that can read and shows the location of a super secret weapon that will immediately destroy said insurmountable obstacle Batman! Lucky!" "What? Certain death? Good thing I inexplicably decided to do that one thing that coincidentally made me completely immune to that certain-death-causing thing! Lucky!" Normally that would be a deal-breaker for me, but it's a testament to just how absorbing a read this book was that I found myself forgiving it instantly for the huge coincidences so long as I could see what happens next.
So, in conclusion: Pros: Fascinating main character Gripping story Great action Cons: Dangerously cheesy Catastrophic coincidence cheating Can't recommend to anyone who still thinks I'm a decent person
If I had stopped to think about it, I might have given this one a lower rating; that's exactly why I didn't. This book has a lot of problems, includinIf I had stopped to think about it, I might have given this one a lower rating; that's exactly why I didn't. This book has a lot of problems, including but not limited to unclear writing, shallow interchangeable characters, clumsy plot development, and the unexpected, unnecessary, and irritating elimination of characters that Mr. Ryan seemed to be bored of. Really, the book left me with the feeling that I'd been cheated. People came along, piqued my interest, and were killed off or shipped away before they could make any real complex conflicts. It seemed like Mr. Ryan lacked the confidence to let things play out. So anyone that could have complicated the main character's motivations, choices, or personality died or disappeared and less interesting people took their place. In the end, the real victim was the main character himself. He starts out great, with interesting relationships and personal conflicts. By the end of the story, he's become very vague and aloof, with no real relationships to speak of and his personal struggles have been replaced with an omnipotent inner compass that has all the mystery and subtlety of a video game mini-map, with big flashing beacons pointing him toward the next big plot point. He still has a grand overarching mission to accomplish, but it's pretty hard to care since he's already lost everything worth caring about. I closed the book with an irritated sigh rather than a triumphant fist pump.
So, with a little contemplation, I could easily have written an angry review about what a complete waste of time this book was. But what a gripping waste of time it was! I took this book everywhere, hungrily picking it up every time I had a spare moment. The pacing was excellent, the voice was engaging, the action was bloody and satisfying, and a steady stream of agonizing foreshadowing kept me riveted. Mr. Ryan has a lot to learn about plot and characters, but he'll have years to figure it out because his books will be on the best-seller shelf whether they stick the ending or belly flop. He's that good! Even the painful, exhausted collapse into apathy that was this book's ending wasn't enough to keep me from craving its sequel, just to ride along for another 600 pages of Mr. Ryan's storytelling. At some time in the near future, Mr. Ryan will gain the confidence and the skill to really develop his characters and do his plots justice. When that happens, he will be a titan in this industry. So hang in there, Mr. Ryan, keep practicing and putting out books like this one and I'll happily forgive you....more