I decided that I should start the month right and kick off October with a good dark fantasy, and Mark Lawrence’s debut novel did a great job at setting the perfect sort of grim atmosphere I was looking for. This story follows Jorg Ancrath, a young prince who years ago fled his kingdom after witnessing the brutal deaths of his mother and brother. Now hardened into the cruel and unfeeling leader of a gang of marauders, Jorg’s wrath pulls him back to his father’s castle, hungry to reclaim his birthright to the throne and prepared to cut down anyone who would dare to stand in his way. What ensues is a story full of fascinating moral complexity, intrigue, and hauntingly beautiful writing which, as soon as it hooked me, would not let me go.
Right off the bat let me just say that I am blown away by what a great and unconventional protagonist Jorg was, which is not to say that he was great person per se… in fact chances are that you will find him to be absolutely reprehensible at the beginning of this novel. However, it’s the journey he takes you on and the style in which he narrates his inner dialogue that adds so many complex and captivating layers to his character. One minute you despise him, the next you sympathize with him, and then (simply by the nature of him being the protagonist) you realize you are rooting for someone who is objectively a pretty horrible person, and it just messes with your head in the best possible way! You still may not like Jorg by the end of the story, but you will certainly feel differently about him than you did at the beginning. He is not your typical hero, and as such the reader is not taken on the typical hero’s journey, allowing for several shocking moments. Even the setting, which I expected to be your standard sort of medieval Europe-esque analogue, was something much different from what I was expecting. If I had to nitpick about any element of Jorg’s character it would probably be that his narrative voice and dialogue at times seemed a tad too mature and highfalutin for someone who is only meant to be 13 years old, but I really can’t complain too much about that, as it gave us various wonderful, emotional and thought-provoking passages:
“We wrap up our violent and mysterious world in a pretense of understanding. We paper over the voids in our comprehension with science or religion, and make believe that order has been imposed […] We skim across surfaces, heedless of the depths below. Dragonflies flitting over a lake, miles deep, pursuing erratic paths to pointless ends. Until that moment when something from the cold unknown reaches up to take us”.
The writing was (fairly) consistently gripping, flowing and and ominous, and it made for a very engaging reading experience. I say “fairly” because for whatever reason, the first 50 pages of this novel were a bit difficult to get through. They felt somewhat disjointed and muddled when compared to the rest of the book, however once it got over that initial hump it just took off and didn’t stop! The only other real complaint I have is that the side-characters weren’t especially strong. Aside from Sir Makin (a former knight and Jorg’s trusted ally) and the Nuban (a quiet, loyal and highly-respected Marauder in Jorg’s troop), none of the other members of the supporting cast had very strong personalities. Even by the end of the novel I found myself confusing members of the Marauders for one-another, and even thought this narrative is obviously meant to focus on Jorg, considering how much he emphasized his relationship to them as being his “brothers”, I feel like that theme would have been strengthened even more had Lawrence developed a stronger core group among them.
So overall I really enjoyed this book, and I can’t wait to check out the next installment! It was a very refreshing departure from your typical fantasy stories of chivalry and heroism, and instead offers a transfixing morally grey tale which you’ll be thinking about for quite a while after you turn the final page. 4/5