Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Prince Of Fools - Mark Lawrence


Prince Of Fools
The Red Queen’ War, Book One
Mark Lawrence
Ace
 
Dark Fantasy

As the grandson of the Red Queen, Prince Jalan Kendeth lives a pretty easy life.  Since he’s tenth in line for the throne, there’s really no danger that he’ll ever have to do anything like rule or make policy.  Instead, he spends his time gambling and making it his job to visit every bedchamber in the city.  To his horror, he was once sent into battle at the Aral Pass.  Somehow, while running away from his scouting party, he ran into the main battle and managed to acquit himself well, earning him the title “Hero Of The Aral Pass.”  He’s well aware of who and what he is, does his almost defiant best to play the fool, is self-deprecating about it, and yet is keenly and uncomfortably aware that his imposing grandmother knows it, too.

On the morning this story begins, the Red Queen summons all of her grandchildren to the audience chamber.  Also present are several captives who have tales to tell about the rise of the Dead King and his armies, both undead and unborn.  One of these, the very picture of a Viking, called Snorri ver Snagason, tells his story in such a way that it forces even Jal believe – until the story is done.  Once free of the audience chamber, Jal tells himself that these stories of far-away events must be the superstitious imaginings of uneducated foreigners.  Obviously nothing to do with him.
 
Later, at a performance of the capital’s opera, Jal sees the Queen’s seer, painting symbols around the opera house.  She’s clearly trying to cast a spell, and it won’t be pretty.  He manages to escape through a window, breaking through a symbol that has a physical presence to it.  He hits the ground in shock, because of the spell, and because of the soulless eyes he saw on an attendee wearing a mask.  In that moment, he believes in the unborn and the Dead King.  When the spell activates, it splits into light and dark.  The light hits Jal, and the dark hits Snorri.  From that moment, the two are bound by the spell.  They quickly find that, should they venture too far apart, there are very physical consequences.  Since Snorri is set on going back north to find what is left of his family after an attack by the undead, a probable suicide mission, Jal is constrained to follow.
 
This story takes place in the same Broken Empire that contained PRINCE OF THORNS, KING OF THORNS, and EMPEROR OF THORNS.  While it crosses that narrative once or twice, readers don’t have to have read the first trilogy to enjoy this one.  I would highly recommend reading the first trilogy at some point, however, because it is a sterling example of dark fantasy.  For longtime readers, this novel begins in a very different tone.  Keep reading.  While this first installment seems to set up Jal as a clown prince, it quickly becomes serious.  Jal does his level best to behave like the put-out royal, forced out of his palace and onto the road; but since readers are privy to his thoughts and emotions, we can see that, underneath it, there is more to him.
 
The story consists mainly of Jal and Snorri, on the road to the far north.  This is ideal for new readers, since Jal has never been outside his home kingdom, and everything beyond its borders is new to him.  On the way, a great many people pass in and out of their lives; some of them will be familiar to longtime readers. In addition, each one is carrying one side of the spell, a passenger that makes itself known, for good or ill, literally, every single day of the journey.  This is a great first book in a new series by a consistently compelling author.

Rating: 8 ½
June 2014
ISBN# 978-0-425-26878-0 (hardcover – also available in pb)

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