If fools really do rush in where angels fear to tread, then Prince Jalan Kendeth is the least foolhardy man you’re ever likely to meet. If he’s rushing anywhere, then it’s out: out of money, out of luck, out of the way of those angry men wielding swords.
Prince of Fools is the first book of Mark Lawrence’s The Red Queen’s War trilogy, set in the same world, and at the same time, as The Broken Empire series, which we reviewed not too long ago. But it is glimpses of familiarity we get, rather than a re-treading of old stories and characters.
Prince of Fools isn’t as dark a fantasy as Prince of Thorns, but it does have more heart. Jalan is very different to Jorg, though their bastardliness may be comparable. As tenth in line to his Grandmother’s throne, he is happy to let the hundred kings and queens squabble over their broken empire. He is a proud coward, a remorseless womaniser, and a terrible gambler, who has inherited a comfortable life in Red March; that is until he runs into a giant Norseman (quite literally on one occasion) by the name of Snorri ver Snagason. Snorri is his opposite: brave, loyal, and strong of character. The story follows the journey of the two interlocked marauders, dancing to the tunes sung by dead men and silent women.
One of the most enjoyable aspects of the book for me was the character growth. It was something Lawrence did very well in his previous series; it was no easy feat to make us root for Jorg Ancrath, but I believe he surpasses himself in this regard, as he subtly manipulates our thoughts and opinions of his characters. The payoff from this is an emotionally charged finale, where the action actually matters, because we care about the people involved.
In the midst of my recent Pratchett binge, it was nice to have a change of tone, and Lawrence himself has his own strong, darkly comedic, style in his fantasy. The rest of the series will dictate whether The Red Queen’s War can stand shoulder to shoulder with its sadistic older brother, but Prince of Fools is another great story from Mark Lawrence, and I will have no hesitation in jumping into The Liar’s Key.
By Andy Wright
As well as our Broken Empire review, we have also cast our gazes over fantasy writers: Pratchett, Abercrombie, Rothfuss, Lynch, and more. If you would prefer to delve into some fiction, then why not check out our mafia-fantasy serial Bleak Streets of Carrada, which recently made a welcome return for the seventh instalment. Best Wishes.