Prince of Fools
(The Red Queens War: Book One)
When an author writes a trilogy as good as Lawrence’s Broken Empire books, its easy to be skeptical about a new series. Can he do it again, with a new character and a different story? For Mark Lawrence, the answer is, “absolutely, yes.”
Prince of Fools opens in the same world as Lawrence’s previous books, in a different spot on the map and perhaps a different time (its not immediately clear, altho it becomes clear latet.) Jalan is the third son of the Red Queen’s third son. He shirks what little responsibility he does have in favor of gambling and whoring. He has some repute has the Hero of the Aral Pass (although that had more to do with luck than skill or heroism.) Jalan is a brat- a charming, spoiled brat. He is also broke, as his gambling has outpaced his income.
When Snorri ver Snagason shows up before the queen with tales of the undead rising, Jalan pays little attention. He is more interested in gambling on the Norseman in the fighting pits. Things don’t work out as Jalan hoped, tho.
In the wake of a tragic fire, Jalan and Snorri find themselves magically bound to one another. Jalan’s magic is light and fire, while Snorri’s is cold and black. Neither of them can go far from the other. Jalan finds himself reluctantly joining Snorri’s quest to return home to the North, to rescue his family and get revenge on the undead.
Along the way, Jalan and Snorri fight against both the living and the undead. They spend interminable days on foot, on horseback or on a ship. They spend their nights, when they’re lucky, in disreputable taverns. Jalan learns about Snorri’s past and the things that drive his quest. He also learns more about the magic that binds their paths.
There are certain things in Prince of Fools that Lawrence fans will recognize and enjoy. The clever, snarky writing is there from the book’s opening lines. The whole mythos (the general map, languages, religions, etc) is familar, too. While Prince of Fools may take place in a familiar world- and maybe even mention a few familiar names- its a whole new story, written in an entirely different tone.
Jalan and Jorg are both very anti-heroes, but they are very very different. Jorg was an outright bastard, driven by immense purpose, nor caring what anyone thought and willing to kill at the slightest provocation. Jalan is a brat, almost entirely purposeless, charming, shallow, and afraid to fight.
But Lawrence got us to root for that bastard, and he gets us to root for this brat. He writes Jalan with enough humor and humanity that the reader starts to care for him. And where Jalan is weak and foolish, Snorri is strong and noble, so a reader naturally roots for him.
Jalan may be the Prince of Fools. His story may be comprised mostly of travelling and fighting. But Mark Lawrence has written a compelling character and a non-stop story. It’s different from rhe Broken Empire books, but -yes- its just as good. It may even be better.