PRINCE OF FOOLS (The Red Queen’s War #1), by Mark Lawrence #WyrdAndWonder

My first, and so far only encounter with Mark Lawrence’s works was with Prince of Thorns and while I liked the story I did not exactly enjoy it: not so much because of the grimness, with which I’m already familiar thanks to writers like Martin or Abercrombie, but because the main character, Jorg, was so steeped in his search for vengeance that I could not find in him any redeeming quality. Those feelings were so overwhelming that I could not bring myself to move forward with the series – or to read anything else by this author. Until now.  Exactly ten years after my not-so-happy encounter with Jorg, and after reading so many positive reviews from fellow bloggers, I decided to try again with a novel from Mark Lawrence and settled on Prince of Fools – and this choice proved quite felicitous…

Prince Jalan, tenth in the line of succession in the realm of Red March, does not care for power: his only interests are wine, women and gambling – the latter putting him more often than not in serious trouble, as does his flitting from one willing female to the next. In the course of his umpteenth mad dash to avoid the enraged relative of one such female, he barely escapes a deadly trap set by the Silent Sister, the crone who sits besides the queen’s throne and that few can see, and in so doing he becomes inextricably and magically entangled with Snorri, a Viking warrior brought to Red March as a prisoner.  The two of them set off for a quest across the world looking for the means to undo the spell – a quest that also entails Snorri’s search for the fate of his family.  As their journey progresses, they become aware of the impending danger from the Dead King and his army of reanimated corpses, and of the fact that the spell binding the two of them might be more than a “simple” inconvenience…

The tone and mood of Prince of Fools conquered me immediately: where Jorg’s journey represented something of a dark descent into hell, Jalan’s story – even though it is not always sunny and fun – was a more relaxing blend of drama and humor, mostly due to the happy-go-luck attitude of the protagonist.  Jalan is quite open about his shortcomings, almost proud of them, a self-centered guy affected by Peter Pan Syndrome who is quite happy about this state of affairs, and hoping for it to go on indefinitely.  He is therefore the perfect foil for Norse warrior Snorri, a man firmly set in his honor code and totally filled with a love for adventure and battle that Jalan cannot comprehend.  In the young prince’s own words:

With Snorri troubles were always put front and centre and dealt with. My style was more shove them under the rug until the floor got too uneven to navigate, and then to move home.

This difference is further stressed once they are bound by the spell that forces them to stay together (increasing the distance between them causes enormous discomfort and might even lead to death) and that’s expressed with encroaching darkness for Snorri and blinding light for Jalan. Two halves of the same whole, different and yet complementary – and probably destined to some higher purpose.  But the journey, either the physical one or the road toward mutual understanding and friendship, is not an easy one and their travels are punctuated by Snorri’s cheerful acceptance of hardships and Jalan’s constant whining about lack of comforts. Or willing women…

More than once I was somehow reminded of that older movie, The Defiant Ones, starring Sidney Poitier and Tony Curtis, where two escaped convicts bound by a chain are forced to cooperate to survive. Jalan and Snorri are equally bound to each other and observing their forced companionship turn first into grudging acceptance and then respect and friendship constitutes the main delight of this story. The journey also reveals their true characters behind the outward mask they are both wearing: Snorri’s bluster hides a deep-seated pain mixed with regrets, and under Jalan’s self-absorption there is a good person, capable of kindness and empathy, mostly revealed through his reactions to Snorri’s tale of woe.

Characters always represent what makes or breaks a story for me, and in this respect Prince of Fools is a winner, but in this case the world-building works just as well because I found this imaginary world both intriguing and fun.  Looking at an online map for the novel, I discovered that the background is loosely based on the European continent, with Jalan’s Red March taking a space that includes the westernmost part of Northern Italy and the southern coast of France: mentions of Rome and Florence further strengthen the resemblance, as do, for example, the names for the realm of Rhone (which roughly corresponds to central France) or the descriptions of the northern territories from which Snorri comes, that are clearly the area constituted by Sweden and Norway.   The constant references to the ancient Builders and the destructive event of the Thousand Suns clearly point to this world as being a post-apocalyptic one in which memory of the past has been all but erased, the few surviving notions twisted and turned into legends that open the road for some tongue-in-cheek humor, like the mention of the train, which has now become some sort of mythical beast or that of a famous Viking ship whose name was “Ikea”…

Even though this novel lost me for a short while, when the start of Jalan and Snorri’s journey felt somewhat erratic and lacking some focus, it still managed to keep me reading on because of the constantly evolving relationship between the two main characters, and once the story reached its climatic peak I was totally onboard and fully invested in it – I might have waited a decade to get back to this author’s works, but now he has my full attention and my eagerness to see where the journey goes.  And maybe – who knows? – I might even give Jorg another chance….  😉

My Rating:


16 thoughts on “PRINCE OF FOOLS (The Red Queen’s War #1), by Mark Lawrence #WyrdAndWonder

  1. I had exactly the same experience with Lawrence – Jorg left me deciding that I’d never touch another Lawrence book again… But The Book That Would Not Burn is calling to me. Thank you for a lovely review – this one may well also go on the list, too:)).

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This sounds pretty cool, Maddalena! I have both this and Prince of Thorns high on my priority list but I still haven’t gotten around to them. I do look forward to diving into these trilogies, especially Prince of Thorns since I’ve heard so much about that protagonist. I hope the rest of this trilogy works out for you though. Thanks for sharing this great review, as always! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you!
      Having read the first book of both trilogies, I would recommend starting with this one to get a “feel” for the author’s style and world-building, so that you might be better “prepared” to face Jorg and his darkness… 🙂


  3. Prince of Thorns can be pretty rough, not only because of the utter grimness but just the downright assholery of the protagonist and Jorg is definitely not for everyone. I can see why you had a much better time with Jalan because I felt the same way. He is such a dope 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Well I am glad you kept reading! Also I love blends of drama and humor! I absolutely adore humor or even better, sarcasm in my books!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I’ve only read Mark Lawrence’s newer works (eg Red Sister, The Girl and the Moon) but enjoyed them a lot so keep meaning to go back to the older ones. This sounds good, and warning taken on Jorg, thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

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