Audiobook and Print Review: Prince of Fools

Prince of Fools

Prince of Fools: The Red Queen’s War, Book 1
By Mark Lawrence
Narrated by Tim Gerard Reynolds
Ⓟ 2014, Recorded Books
14.6 hours

I burned through the insanely brilliant Broken Empire Trilogy in 72 hours. I became delirious with lack of sleep wrought by potent imagery, and keen anticipation of what the sociopathic protagonist, Jorg of Ancrath would do next. When the trilogy was finished I actually threw a temper tantrum, because I didn’t want it to be over. The stories weren’t perfect (The revelation about the setting was too long in coming in Prince of Thorns; the forces battling with Jorg weren’t as clearly delineated as one might have wished in King of Thorns; and I wasn’t thrilled at the pacing at the end of the Emperor of Thorns…); but all this palls with just how thrilling it all is; and I will admit that maybe the “flaws” may be ironed out on re-reading at a more sane rate.

It was with a certain amount of trepidation that I started Prince of Fools.  Could I have started with Prince of Fools without having taken the time to read the Broken Empire trilogy?  Could Prince of Fools be as good as its contemporaneous book, Prince of Thorns?  If I couldn’t have more adventures with Jorg of Ancrath though, I would take whatever else I could get about The Broken Empire and I dove in…

And YES!

  • YES, as in Yes, you do need to read the Broken Empire trilogy before you head into Prince of Fools. There is just no other way around it. The Broken Empire trilogy creates the world and perspective that the reader needs in order to get the humor and understand some of the issues at play beyond the pages of Prince of Fools that have bearing on the plot.
  • YES, as in “Yes, it is different from the Broken Empire in significant ways.” You need to adjust your expectations, but you won’t really be disappointed. The different POV enriches the Broken Empire:
    • Mark Lawrence gives more play to humor in Prince of Fools. Another anti-hero, Prince Jalen of Kendreth, tenth in line to the Red Queen’s throne, is a self-professed liar, cheat and coward, not to mention a profligate who is always trying to stay one step ahead of enraged  husbands, protective brothers and bookies. An unapologetic, short-sighted opportunist who nonetheless lacks a bone of malevolence, he is very aware of his shortcomings, though it does little to keep him out of mischief. We know Jalen primarily through what he tells us of himself via a lens of self-deprecating humor. His self-assessments inform his actions (cf Jorg of Ancrath whose actions tell the reader more of who he is than his internal musings.)
    • In Prince of Fools, Jalen finds himself ensnared  in a spell and bound to a viking named Snorri. The two make their way North from the Red March (analogous to Southern Eastern France/Western Italy) into Scandinavian territories where they seek to break the spell and exact vengeance against the the Dead and dark forces that have cast them together. There is no lack of action or violence in “POF,” but it is not nearly as dark as in The Broken Empire trilogy. Because  Jalen is  not  an aggressor or a risk taker, and in fact reactionary, his schemes are defensive in  nature.
  • YES, as in “Yes, if you have read the Broken Empire Trilogy and need a little Jorg fix, it is here when Jalen and Jorg cross paths at an inn.”  This whole section works as a companion piece to the Broken Empire Trilogy. There is so much I love about this section, but talking about it would spoil the fun…

And now a word about the narration:

I can see why Tim Gerard Reynolds was cast as the narrator for Prince of Fools: He is Irish like the author; He has had success with the the humorous and fantastical tale of The Infernals (by John Connolly) and the Science Fiction epic fantasy, Red Rising (by Pierce Brown) which would indicate comedic timing and a sensibility for SFF respectively. All that said,  I don’t think the book was best served by this choice of a narrator. Jalan hails from the Red March on the Mediterranean Coast, not from the Drowned Isles (which would correspond to what we know as England.) So, even given that there is a (Broken) Empire accent in play, it’s hard to imagine an Irish accent given dominance for the narrative. It’s disconcerting, but not a deal-breaker. But then there’s the fact the Jalan is a twenty-two-year old; and well, Tim Gerard Reynolds is not, either in fact or sensibility. Again, not a deal-breaker, as Reynolds is a middle-aged Irish man and there’s just no getting around that. But then there’s the poor female characterization, poor character delineation, and overall failure of direction in the first chapters that launch the the book. Then, there’s the whole tone of the book, which is fast and slick (think Eddy Izzard or Ben Aaronovitch); but for which we get John Cleese a la 2014. Alright, I think I could have borne it all, and maybe you could too; but then, there was this, very early on in the book:

“I didn’t stop to reply but vaulted down into the bushes, which were thankfully the fragrant rather than the thorny variety. Dropping into a thorn bush can lead to no end of grief.”

The narrator threw away the line, like he had no idea of why it was written or why it would be important, so there was no irony in the interpretation. And this, yes, this was the deal breaker for me. Perhaps all my quibbling prior to this last peeve listed was a result of my not being able to recover from what I consider an egregious oversight, so he was damned nearly from the start. That being a given, I will still be willing to listen to Red Rising (by Pierce Brown, and upon the strength of which Reynolds earned the accolade of an AudioFile Magazine Best Voice of 2014; but I will be reading The Liar’s Key, the second book in the Red Queen’s War trilogy (to be released in June 2015) in print.

EDIT: 01/16/2015 – Mark Lawrence is not Irish.
EDIT: 01/26/2016 – Reformat Mark Lawrence’s tweet and add date stamp; Added Tim Gerard Reynolds’ tweet

Mark__Lawrence Jan 16, 8:42am via Twitter Web Client
@dogearedcopy Many thanks!
(I’m not Irish by the way 🙂 )

KanShoReynolds Jan 24, 6:54am via Twitter for iPad
@dogearedcopy @recordedbooks@Mark__Lawrence …
Thanks too! Sorry that thorn bush lead to no end of grief … Enjoy #RedRising!


OTHER: I received a CD library edition of Prince of Fools: The Red Queen’s War, Book 1 (By Mark Lawrence; Narrated by Tim Gerard Reynolds) from Recorded Books in exchange for a review. I receive no monies, goods (beyond the audiobook) or services in exchange for reviewing the product and/or mentioning any of the persons or companies that are or may be implied in this post.