Tag Archives: Prince of Fools

Festivus Book Pimping: Red Queen’s War trilogy by Mark Lawrence

Hear ye! Hear ye! Second in the most Festivus of Book Pimping is Mark Lawrence’s Red Queen’s War trilogy. It was The Wheel of Osheim, the last in the trifecta, I read this year. This book also has the honour of being the first story I read on my kindle (I have the paperback also, because having only two books of a trilogy sitting in my bookcase makes me twitch – it ain’t pretty).

The Red Queen’s War trilogy is the second in Lawrence’s grimdark series – the first being The Broken Empire trilogy, but there’s no need to read that first as while there is a most excellent crossover in the second series, each trilogy stands alone.

Right then, trilogy equals three books: Prince of Fools, The Liar’s Key, and rounding it out is The Wheel of Osheim ­‒ a hell of a tome. Like, doorstop size. Makes sense, there’s a lot to tie up in the final book of a trilogy.

So, what’s this about? I mentioned grimdark earlier, and while there’s always some debate as to what that is, I think the most simple explanation is a story that doesn’t pull punches when it comes the darkest depths of human behaviour. Unapologetic characters who do what they must to survive, to thrive, and let the consequences fall where they may. Redemption? Pfft, spit that from thy mouth!

Don’t ever go into Lawrence’s books looking for a rainbows and unicorns and elves and shit – fantasy this may be, but these worlds are filled with darkness and the dead. It’s really kinda cool. The Red Queen’s War trilogy borrows heavily from the Norse mythos, especially with one of the two main characters: viking Snorri ver Snagason – warrior bard. Snorri holds his own (and then some) with Prince Jalan Kendeth – craven tart. They make quite the pairing. It’s magic that tethers the two together, and ultimately what may tear them, and the world, apart.


I could go on, but here are the back-cover blurbs for each, which are far more succinct than my ramblings above.

Prince of Fools

The Red Queen is old, but the kinds 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 names Jorg Ancrath, and meets the ice witch, Skilfar, all the while 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.

The Liar’s Key

The eyes of the mighty are on the North. Loki’s key has been found and lies in the hands of a feckless prince and broken warrior. Winter has locked Prince Jalan Kendeth far from the luxury of his southern palace. The North may be home to the viking, but he is just as eager to leave. However, even men who hold a key that can open any door must wait for the thaw.

As the ice unlocks its jaws, the Dead King moves to claim what was so nearly his. But there are other players in this game, other hands reaching for Loki’s key. Jalan wants only to return to the wine and women of the south, but Snorri aims to find he very door into death and throw it wide. The warrior will challenge all of Hell, if that’s what it takes to bring his wife and children back to the living world. He has found the key – now all he needs is to find the door.

The Wheel of Osheim

All the horrors of Hell stand between Snorri and the rescue of his family, if indeed the dead can be rescued. For Jalan, getting back out alive and with Loki’s key is all that matters. Loki’s creation can open any lock, any door, and it may also be the key to Jalan’s fortune back in the living world.

Jalan plans t return to his debauched life of wine, women and wagering. Fate, however, has other plans. Larger plans. The Wheel of Osheim is turning ever faster, and it will crack the world unless it’s stopped. When the end of all things looms, and there’s nowhere to run, even the worst coward must find new answers. In the end, it’s win or die.

Look, I can’t recommend these books enough. I once described Mark Lawrence thusly: thief of slumber, time trafficker, broker of the dawn. Once you start with the man’s books, you’re so immersed in the story that your idea of half an hour reading before hitting the sack turns into hours that no amount of coffee can fix the next morning (adulting be hard).

If that isn’t a hell of a selling point, I don’t know what is.

Recommended for readers of fantasy, dark fantasy, horror, grimdark, stabby-stabby, and dead things – there’s a whole lot of dead things.


Festivus Book Pimping – Mark Lawrence

Let’s get some Festivus grimdark on, shall we? Why yes, we shall! This time I’m taking it off-shore, and pimping out Mark Lawrence (yes, I see it, let it go) and his books – trilogies, to be precise. I came late to Lawrence’s books, but that’s worked out remarkably well for me, as I’ve read five of his this year and am waiting (rather impatiently, as is my wont) for the final instalment of his latest trilogy. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Let’s begin with The Broken Empire series, which was another recommendation from a friend –you rock, Tracy! The first, Prince of Thorns (reviewed here), was the beginning of my addiction to Lawrence’s work. Seriously, his writing’s like crack – just one more page, just one more page… just one more… Many a night I sat up reading to the wee hours, forsaking sleep for story.

The Broken Empire trilogy follows Prince Jorg Ancrath, heir to the kingdom of Ancrath and all-round immoral character. Jorg is both personally driven and nudged along the way by outside forces, but ultimately he’s a character who is incredibly self-aware and unapologetically so. I loved him. It’s a book beautifully told in its barbarity, but it’s a violent, chaotic world filled with magic, monsters, and mayhem. It’s Jorg’s world and he’ll be its king – no matter who he needs to step on, kill, maim, or sacrifice in that endeavour.

broken empire

I read King of Thorns (reviewed here), as quickly as I read the first – I couldn’t get enough of the characters or the world-building, let alone the political manoeuvrings from those vying for the role of emperor. It’s a ‘broken empire’ and there are those who want to see it whole and rule it accordingly, and then there’s the Dead King, slowly working his way into the world of the living.  There’s death on a grand-scale here, so if you’re of the more… delicate reading sensibilities… take a leap into the honesty of the brutalities of war.

I began Empire of Thorns (reviewed here), with a little trepidation, not because I thought it wouldn’t stand up to the grandeur of the first two, but because it was the final in the series – it was coming to an end. I devoured this book (not literally, books aren’t for eating – you should know this), and simultaneously tried to draw it out. It was a battle of epic proportions, as are the battles contained in this last instalment of the trilogy, but no less satisfying when it came to its end. Did I want more? You bet I did. Was I disappointed with the ending? Hell no.

This series is told in the first person point of view, which keeps the reader close, and Lawrence has a gift for wordsmithing that is beautiful and poignant. Oft times a phrase would stop me, and I’d have to read it again purely for the beauty of it. Oh, and when you figure out what this world is… that’s pretty awesome. There are those who call Jorg an ‘anti-hero’ or ‘villainous-hero’, but I disagree – he’s determined, driven, and doesn’t take shit from anyone. I kinda like that.

Prince of Fools

Lawrence’s current trilogy, The Red Queen’s War, is set within the same world of The Broken Empire series, but with completely different characters – and I mean different in every way. It runs concurrently with Jorg’s quest, but in Prince of Fools (reviewed here), it is Prince Jalan Kendeth we follow. Jal is, in his own words: a coward, a cheat and a womaniser… and tenth in line to the throne. He’s a wholly different beast to Jorg, and he should be – this is a different story. We’re also introduced to the very cool Norseman Snorri ver Snagason. Magic has bound the two and they must set off for Snorri’s homeland to undo that magic. Again, nothing is ever what it seems with Lawrence’s storytelling, and the clues and tid-bits he leaves the reader only make you read for longer and again sacrifice sleep.

This continues with The Liar’s Key, which is being lauded as one of the best fantasy books of 2015, and with good reason. I haven’t yet got around to reviewing this book, but… tough call that it is, I’d put it in my top three of all the books I’ve read this year. There’s a criss-crossing of timelines and some characters from The Broken Empire series, but that only cements the ‘realness’ of this story within the large, large world Lawrence has created. For world-building alone, you can’t go past either series.

The Liar's Key

I can’t recommend these books enough. So if you’ve loved ones who like to read fantasy, especially of the dark, unapologetic kind, then The Broken Empire and Red Queen’s War trilogies are one’s you can’t go past. Or buy them for yourself – everyone needs to treat themselves to some dark stuff every once in a while!

And if you’re wondering if these books are as good as I say they are, I sacrificed so much sleep to finish these books, I’m sure I unwittingly sold parts of my soul. I also gave the man a handle:

Mark Lawrence – thief of slumber, time trafficker, broker of the dawn.

Review: Prince of Fools by Mark Lawrence

I don’t get anywhere near the amount of time to read for pleasure as I’d like. This hasn’t in any way curbed my book buying – that’s a joy in and of itself; it does mean the reading time I do have is so damn precious the book better be good. And by ‘good’ I mean convince me I can absolutely function as an adulting adult on two hours sleep.

Enter Mark Lawrence – thief of slumber, time trafficker, broker of the dawn. That’s him there, sauntering in with Prince of Fools in hand. Words, he offered, places brutal and beautiful. So I sold my sleep, my ability to reason, and any resemblance to something remotely human when the alarm screamed at me to wake up, dammit!

I should have known; enamoured as I was with Lawrence’s first offering of Jorg Ancrath in the Broken Empire trilogy. While Prince of Fools is told in the same first-person point of view, it travels (mostly) within a single timeline. There are flashbacks of a kind, moments of reminisce and rediscovery, but there is no real time-jumping as those from the Broken Empire.

Prince of Fools

Prince of Fools is the first in the Red Queen’s War series, and while it’s set within the Broken Empire (and runs parallel to Jorg’s story, with a nice little crossover that kept this reader happy), don’t for a minute think you’re in for the same thing. Here, it’s Prince Jalan Kendeth, womaniser, gambler, coward, and tenth in line to the throne who tells the story. While he’s not a ‘likeable’ character in the true sense of the word, I couldn’t help but like him and his wit (he has some of the best pieces of dialogue I’ve ever read).

When you add the huge Norseman, Snorri ver Snagason, with whom Jalan’s fate is tied, you’ve got two sides to the one coin. Light and dark, coward and hero, honourless and honour-bound. The Silent Sister’s magic has bound the two and set them on a path across the empire to the Bitter Ice, to the place Snorri lost his family to one of the Dead King’s minions, to where both hope to break the magic that binds them, and be rid of the ‘angel’ and ‘demon’ that ride the magic with them.

At the beginning of their journey, it’s clear Snorri is Jalan’s conscience (despite the ‘dark’ side of the magic he holds) – he instructs him in the ‘right’ of things, lures him with the honour of familial bonds that transcend death, and dig into that part of Jalan that is good, despite Jal’s thick veneer of shallowness rooted in self-preservation (oft in the form of running away). The closer the two get to the north, however, the more Snorri retreats into silence and the darkness of his magic, and the less Jal is able to resist the pull of the ‘light’ side of the magic he carries. He’s resistant, of course – doing the right thing often ends in losing more than Jal’s willing to give. Both hold magic, and both can use it, although neither tends to do this well, or with any true understanding of what it is and how it works.

There’s so much more at play here – and a game it is. Jalan and Snorri are both pawn and player, each drawn to their own paths, but so intrinsically entwined, there has to be stronger forces chipping out those paths.  Simpering though Jalan is, and a self-confessed coward (and happily so), when push comes to shove (despite his ‘better’ judgement), he becomes quite the warrior… although much of it within an almost fugue-like state.


Prince of Fools is very much a character-driven story, and Lawrence delivers two vastly different, fully-fleshed out two in Jalan and Snorri. But there’s no phoning-it-in when it comes to the secondary characters either, and I was especially taken with the characters of the North (I’m a sucker for Vikings). But it’s moving through these lands, that we see not only Lawrence’s ability to weave lands and peoples with an almost ease of believability, but both Jal and Snorri’s understanding that this is the long-game. Paths again diverge with Snorri now hunting for Loki’s Key, the only thing that will open the door (any door, anywhere) to Hel, and to his murdered family. Jal just wants to be rid of the magic and to go home to the warmth of the Red March.

Loki’s key is… well, key. It’s the driving force behind all the players in this game – those who’ve been in the long-game and those who’ve just sat down at the table. Jal and Snorri’s isn’t an easy journey, not by any stretch of the imagination. The Dead King wants them (and Loki’s key), and sets monsters, Unborn, mercenaries and necromancer on their tail. (Now there’s a sentence I never thought I’d write.) There are battles and skirmishes pretty much the whole way to the Bitter Ice, but those pale in comparison to the combat at the Black Fort. It’s all or nothing here, and while this is Snorri’s way, it sure ain’t Jal’s but… nah, you’re just going to have to sell your own sleep to Lawrence to find out.

Lawrence has interwoven many a sub-plot, but take note of the word ‘interwoven’ – the foreshadowing for future… events is often a subtle nudge but it all comes together nicely, and there’s no doubt some of these will be continued in the next book. The Red Queen’s War is the long game, and so too is Lawrence plotting – there’s… stuff to be resolved, big stuff, and questions that need answering and secrets to be divulged. There’s magic, both dark and light, and not all is as it seems… at least I think not… or maybe I do…

All I know is that Mark Lawrence is waiting in the wings, a copy of The Liar’s Key in one hand and my hours of sleep in his other.

On a Goodreads scale, I give this five stars (and my supposed sanity).

five stars