Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Review: Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence

There's a good reason why I've mostly been sticking to Urban Fantasy for my reviews rather than hard Traditional Fantasy. Urban fantasy gives you a world we are familiar with, and people who can live right next door to us and not even know it. Traditional fantasy is harder to read because despite the wonder and splendor of the imagination, fantasy presents you with a world that is fundamentally wrong. It gives you a world where up is down, left is right, and things aren't always the way we expect, and that means that with each new world you visit, you have to let go of what you know to be true and accept what the author is telling you as fact.

One of the hardest books I ever had to get into was Alan Campbell's Scar Night. In it, a city was suspended over an abyss by chain links the size of houses. It was hard to imagine a city held over an abyss: where were the chains suported from? Above them or to the side? was there land somewhere for it to be attached to? why did people stay in a place where they could constantly live in fear of falling to their deaths?  All of these questions came up, and it made the city of Deepgate harder to picture and therefore harder to accept as a place.

But I'm getting away from my point. I decided that I needed a little excursion to a new fantasy realm, and Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence looked like just the book I needed. Prince of Thorns is the first book by Mark Lawrence and sets the stage for a series in which the main character, Prince Jorg Ancrath kills just about anyone who gets within ten feet of him. Yes it seems catty of me to say it that way, so I should make an exception to that...he only does it on days that end in "y".

Jorg Ancrath is the Prince of Ancrath, a territory set in a world that might be ours hundreds of years after a nuclear war or might not be, I'm not quite sure (magic is involved a lot, but the name Plato gets thrown around a lot, as well as recognizable races like asian and norse.) When he was nine he watched his mother and younger brother get brutally murdered while he was secured in a brush of hook briars that almost bled him dry. When he got better he somehow became a sadistic, murderous deviant, set a bunch of prisoners free, and somehow became their leader. At the age of thirteen he returns to his homeland to get his birthright at whatever cost because he's determined that hes going to be king.

If my thought process seems a bit jumbled, I assure you its for a good reason: Prince of Thorns was one of the hardest books I've ever had to read. I had to force myself to take time to read it. It's not that it's a bad book. Unclean Spirits was a bad book and I got through that in three days. No, Prince of Thorns was like the Saw movies. For the first Saw movie, it was an intriguing concept and though it was gross and kind of disturbing, we all got through it. After that, we all knew what we were getting into and what to expect, a lot of blood and torture and sadism. The first twenty pages or so of Prince of Thorns was like the first Saw movie, a murderous thirteen year old killing men because he's the leader of a group of bandits because daddy didn't punish the man who killed his mommy. After that it made me increadibly uncomfortable reading it for more than ten or fifteen pages because it was like watching the last few Saw movies: I knew exactly what I was getting myself into.

If you have read any of my reviews before now, you've seen me use the term "literary manslaughter" before: the creation of a unique and interesting character just for the sake of murdering him to advance the plot. I am not a fan of that. Mark Lawrence takes that one step further and I never thought I'd use a term like Literary Genocide, but times change and needs must. Mark Lawrence seems to revel in the creation of characters for young Jorg to murder in just about every chapter to the point it almost seems like a fetish. Many chapters even begin with an excpert describing his "brothers", the bandits who work with him, many of whom don't last more than a few pages after being introduced. What's worse is that Jorg seems to have an inner monologue running in the most schizophrenic of ways where he debates the fact that he WANTS to murder people for little more than they displease him.

I could understand, and even respect this about Jorg if he were doing this all for a reason, but Jorg seems to have no real plan other than to be King, and no path to doing it. The entire book was a mix of my two least favorite cliche's: the unrepentant killer, and the aimless wanderer. The book starts with him razing a village to the ground, then wandering slowly back home, killing some people along the way because he can, getting home, killing people for no reason, leaving home to earn his inheritance, killing even MORE people, returning home, leaving home, and finally trying to get revenge for his murdered mother. There was almost no point to the entire first half of the book other than exemplifying that old bumper sticker: join the army, meet interesting people, then kill them.

I suppose I shouldn't call Jorg unrepentant, though: about halfway through the book, he realizes why he's been doing the things he's been doing and decides to actually do what the book says he was trying to do: avenge his mother and become king. I actually started actively hating this book at this point, because not only did it make Jorg seem wishy-washy and inconsistent, he still does the wrong thing constantly, time after time. He is the man who knows the right thing to do at every turn, and decides to do the wrong thing every time, it's just that he now knows that he;s the one deciding, not someone else for him.

I'd like to say that Prince of Thorns was a good book, worthy of your attention, but all in all, I would only recommend it to people who like a lot of flash and no substance. The characters were uninteresting to the point that even the author didn't think them worthy of life: it almost feels like waiting in line at Starbucks for an hour only to realize once you get in that there's a guillotine waiting for you just inside the door. The plot could have been much more interesting if it hadn't been layered under death and rape that made the Saw movies look like candyland, and the writing was contrived to the point of skipping paragraphs to see if the people would ever get to the point. I wouldn't read Prince of Thorns again unless I want to get angry, and in the words of Jorg Ancrath, "I don't like getting angry. It makes me angry."

Thursday, August 16, 2012

First Timer: Moon Called by Patricia Briggs

Dragging myself out of the slump that is The Black Sun's Daughter, I decided to do something different and take a look at some older Urban Fantasy for this review. Patricia Briggs is no new face in those circles: she’s done over a dozen books, and has even had her work turned into a graphic novel. Her longest series is referred to simply as the Mercy Thompson Series, and is about a shape shifter who can turn into a coyote and lives in a world that is just coming to terms with the supernatural.
Now I have to say that I was a little skittish about reading another book about female shape shifters. the fact is that shape shifting is a hyper masculine subject, seeing as almost all animal kingdoms are male dominated, and having a kick-ass female character in them goes against the grain pretty hard. Kitty Norville in Carrie Vaughn's books are a great example. the main character Kitty is the pack leader of her group and almost always gets herself into more than she can handle and never shows any signs of alpha mentality. it makes it really hard to follow and even more so, hard to believe. that being the case, I was pleasantly surprised with Moon Called.
The back cover of the book doesn't tell you much about the plot itself, but here's the gist: Mercedes "Mercy" Thompson is a skin walker (a rare breed of shape shifter in the stories cannon who can change instantly into a coyote, is immune to most forms of magic, and is considered a kind of demon hunter) who lives in the Tri-city area, and makes her way as a mechanic. In her world, werewolves, magic and faeries are real, but only the fey have come out to the general public, while some other groups are considering it as well, seeing as modern technology and forensics are making it hard for them to stay hidden. Mercy was raised by werewolves, but was never part of a pack because coyote are considered lesser animals to wolves. Despite this, Mercy's neighbor is a pack leader of the local werewolves and seems to have a things for her...sometimes.
And that's pretty much it.
I'd love to say that there is more to the plot, but for the most part, this book just seemed to be about introducing the different elements of the universe of Mercy Thompson. You get a good look at the werewolf packs in her area, as well as a town in Montana that is all werewolves and their families. You get to see the vampires and their leader in the Tri-city area and their effect on Mercy. But beyond that, the book had a very scattered feel to it, jumping from one place to another with characters making conjectures about what’s going on and being wrong time and time again. There is a major plot point about people being turned into werewolves and being sold, but it’s mostly just to move the story around like a one-sided game of checkers.
All in all it was a very interesting read, and I do plan on reading the second book, though I won't review it. There were only two big points I do want to make about the book though. The first is of course about Literary Manslaughter. One of the characters is introduced early in the book and killed off with almost no point whatsoever. One second he's there giving clues about the plot, the next he's dead and there is literally no point to it whatsoever. It doesn't drive the story any further because there are other events going on at the same time. There was no reason to kill him, and I'm a big fan of not creating characters just to murder them, it just seems very callous to me.
The second part was the last two chapters. almost everything in the story is resolved in the second to last chapter, but in the final part of it, it goes about telling about different things happening one after another, and all of them are completely out of Mercy's perspective: things happening in the wolf pack in Montana, and a story being printed that couldn't have happened for months or even years after the main story. The final chapter is all about Mercy getting back to her life at the garage and going out on a date with a werewolf. There was no point to the entire chapter other than fleshing out a few final details that weren’t all that important to the story to begin with. It reminded me of the Twilight movies where they are doing shopping or talking about dresses: nothing is happening and while it might be realistic, it’s not very interesting.
I would consider recommending to the five people who like Urban Fiction and never read her before, but keep in mind there is more to the story than the first book, and things are bound to get more entertaining.