Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence

Well, my darklings, I can see the Dragon has been too long gone from her lair. It’s been a dreadful summer and I, for one, am most glad to see it over. I’ve been busy though, reading, shifting the iron from the ore to tell you about the books that kept me up long through the night.

It was hard to pick the season opener, but I will tell you this: nothing, NOTHING piques the Dragon’s interest more than a novel that causes other reviewers to either love or condemn a story. When I see such vacillation, I know I have to read it so that I can decide for myself.

And so I did.

Mark Lawrence tells the story of Prince Honorous Jorg Ancrath, a young man who was once a privileged royal child. At the age of nine, Jorg witnesses the brutal murder of his mother and younger brother. By the time Jorg turns thirteen, he leads a gang of outlaws with the sole objective to extract revenge against the Count of Renar, the man who ordered his mother’s death.

Jorg has nurtured his rage and tends it like a dark garden in his heart. He seeks vengence and his days with his outlaw brothers have taught him the brutality he needs to achieve his goal. There is only one thing that frightens Jorg and that is returning to his father’s castle where he must confront the horrors from his childhood and win his place as the true prince of Ancrath.

Lawrence gives us a broken empire in chaos where violence is rampant, but it is our world, easily recognizable. The novel is told entirely from Jorg’s point of view, and Lawrence handles Jorg’s character with the right amount of verve and pathos thrust in equal measure to keep the reader engaged.

Just when Jorg’s violence becomes extreme, Lawrence slows the pace and gives the reader a clear-eyed view into the heart of a child who has known nothing but grief. Only the coldest soul could not see the armor Jorg has placed around himself, caustic wit shields his fear and he buries his sorrow beneath rage. He is a young man who tries to scald love from his heart and he often succeeds. Yet no man is ever completely untouched by those around him, and Jorg is no different.

Jorg is a complex character in a world both familiar and strange, and though the Broken Empire is seen entirely through Jorg’s eyes, the other characters are just as intricate as Jorg himself. Lawrence’s pacing is exquisite and he exhibits a penchant for horror with several well crafted scenes. It is a dark tale well told, you’ll be up into the wee hours as you follow Jorg and his brothers down their bloodied path.

My rating:


Of Blood and Honey by Stina Leicht

It’s good to see something fresh brought to the fantasy genre and Stina Leicht does it with flair in her debut novel Of Blood and Honey. Set in the 1970s when the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) and the British Army (BA) clash, Leicht’s story opens with action that doesn’t stop until the last page is turned.

Ireland’s Fey are at war with the Fallen, and as that conflict escalates, so does the confrontations between the IRA and the BA. Caught up in the war zones from both sides is Liam, a young man who always assumed that his protestant father was dead. When Liam is wrongly accused of participating in a riot and is arrested, his mother turns to her old lover and Liam’s father, a member of the Fey, for help.

Told with the fierce voice of the Irish, Leicht takes the reader deep into Northern Ireland’s Troubles through Liam’s experiences. She pulls no punches and shows both the IRA and the BA in all their brutality while never losing sight of either the old Celtic religion or the new (Christianity). It’s rare to see such a masterful weaving of worlds, but Leicht keeps a tight grip on her story and propels the reader forward like a bullet from a gun.

All of Leicht’s characters are rich and complex, and she keeps the surprises coming. She masterfully intertwines fantasy with reality to create a world so gritty, you feel like you’re walking Belfast’s streets. Dark and feral in its imagery, this is a story you don’t want to miss.

My rating:

The Thief of Always by Clive Barker

“The great gray beast February had eaten Harvey Swick alive.” And from this point forward I was so thoroughly pulled into young Harvey’s life that I forgot my own for a couple of days.

Bored by the dreary month of February, Harvey wishes to have some fun and is rewarded by the appearance of Mr. Rictus, whose name alone should give some indication of foreboding. Mr. Rictus promises to take Harvey away from his horrible doldrums to an enchanting place called the Holiday House where he can have fun all the day long everyday.

Of course, there’s a price to be paid for a life of non-stop fun, but Barker has created an engaging hero in Harvey and carries him through his adventures with grace and imagination. Barker also illustrates this novel with images that can be more disturbing than the text in some places, but the overall effect is marvelous.

This is not a trite young adult novel where everything works out peachy with no ramifications for the protagonist. A lesson learned through adversity can be the most treasured lesson of all, and there is a definite feeling at the end of this novel that Harvey will carry the lessons learned from Holiday House like a childhood scar. Creepy, engaging, and populated with fascinating characters, The Thief of Always is a treat.

My Rating: