Prince of Fools: The Red Queen's War, Book 1 Audible Audiobook – Unabridged
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Hailed as "epic fantasy on a George R. R. Martin scale, but on speed" (Fixed on Fantasy), the Broken Empire trilogy introduced a bold new world of dark fantasy with the story of Jorg Ancrath' s devastating rise to power. Now, Mark Lawrence returns to the Broken Empire with the tale of a less ambitious prince.
The Red Queen is old but the kings of the Broken Empire dread her like no other. For all her reign, she has fought the long war, contested in secret, against the powers that stand behind nations, for higher stakes than land or gold. Her greatest weapon is The Silent Sister - unseen by most and unspoken of by all.
The Red Queen's grandson, Prince Jalan Kendeth - drinker, gambler, seducer of women - is one who can see The Silent Sister. Tenth in line for the throne and content with his role as a minor royal, he pretends that the hideous crone is not there. But war is coming. Witnesses claim an undead army is on the march, and the Red Queen has called on her family to defend the realm. Jal thinks it' s all a rumor - nothing that will affect him - but he is wrong. After escaping a death trap set by the Silent Sister, Jal finds his fate magically intertwined with a fierce Norse warrior. As the two undertake a journey across the Empire to undo the spell, encountering grave dangers, willing women, and an upstart prince named Jorg Ancrath along the way, Jalan gradually catches a glimmer of the truth: He and the Norseman are but pieces in a game, part of a series of moves in the long war - and the Red Queen controls the board.
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|Listening Length||14 hours and 38 minutes|
|Narrator||Tim Gerard Reynolds|
|Whispersync for Voice||Ready|
|Audible.com Release Date||June 03, 2014|
|Best Sellers Rank|| #20,288 in Audible Books & Originals (See Top 100 in Audible Books & Originals) |
#647 in Action & Adventure Fantasy (Audible Books & Originals)
#875 in Literary Fiction (Audible Books & Originals)
#1,192 in Epic Fantasy (Audible Books & Originals)
Top reviews from the United States
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Prince Jalan Kendeth is the third son of the Red Queen’s third son, tenth in the line of succession with little hopes of ever sitting on the throne…but Jalan is ok with that. He doesn’t have his eye set on ruling Red March – he’d rather enjoy less ambitious pursuits: spending his family’s money on drinking, gambling, and worming his way between the legs of any woman that will have him…and with the title of Prince attached to his name, the pool of willing bed partners is practically unlimited. The only real problem in his carefree life is the massive debt he owes to one of Vermillion’s most dangerous crime lords. Oh, and the Silent Sister, the unsettling old crone that advises his grandmother that everyone except for him can’t see. His grandmother has also become interested in stories of a Dead King raising armies of undead and a door that leads to death, but those are just rumours, right?
Following his escape from a death trap set by the Silent Sister to kill one of those Unborn his grandmother is so obsessed with, Jalan finds his fate magically intertwined with that of Snorri, a fierce Norseman set on rescuing his family from the undead up North. Jal has no choice but to accompany him, encountering grave dangers, narrowly avoiding getting caught up in political matters, and slowly realizing that he and Snorri are just pieces of a long game with potentially deadly consequences…and the Red Queen, his own grandmother, is one of the key players.
The story is very enjoyable. We open to Jal desperately fleeing the brother of the noble Lisa DeVeer, his most recent lover, and it never slows down from there. Even with the grim backdrop and the serious threat that looms over them, Jal’s always getting up to something that makes this a very colourful, exciting experience. It’s an engrossing tale that succeeds in completely snagging the reader and pulling them in. These days, most of my reading is done either while working out, while neglecting other tasks (housework, work, other hobbies), or by staying up later than I should into the night, so books tend to take me a little longer to finish than they used to. “Prince of Fools” took four days, and it only took that long because I forced myself to occasionally stop reading to resume those pesky chores. The story is so interesting, the twists so intriguing, that I couldn’t bear to leave Jal and Snorri and return to the real world. It’s been a good while since a book has engaged me so fully, but this novel had me from page one, through their travels and the exciting climactic battle up North, Snorri’s heartbreaking revelation of what happened to his family and Jal’s misadventures, all the way through until I finished the last page. And I was very sad to turn that final page and realize that there weren’t any more. It’s good that I chose to come into this when the other two books in the trilogy are already out; it’s a story that sticks with you when you’re done and leaves you wanting for more…having to wait a year for the next one would be torture.
The book actually contains two elements that I’m generally wary of in fantasy novels: Evil with a capital E and a lot of travelling, but Lawrence gives his story so much detail that I was surprised to find myself enjoying their travels and gradual discovery of the antagonist. That’s not to say that the author is wordy or overindulgent in his descriptions – quite the opposite! Lawrence uses his adjectives carefully to flesh out his world, painting the scene in precise brushstrokes, giving it enough definition to make it come alive without dominating the prose. The world is possibly explained in fuller detail in the author’s first trilogy, but it appears to be our world many years after some catastrophic event has wiped out our modern technology, the survivors having had to rebuild from nothing and eventually leading to the medieval-esque setting portrayed in “Prince of Fools.” There are some amusing nods to things we view as commonplace that no one in Lawrence’s world knows much about, let alone has seen (for example, Jal imagines a train as a fearsome monster). There’s definitely a dark, gritty aspect to the setting, but it’s not pronounced enough to characterize the book as fully “grimdark” and is instead used as more of a flavouring. It’s a low magic world, so the Silent Sister and the Dead King are incredibly frightening in their abilities, and finding anyone who knows anything about the spell binding the two protagonists is like finding a needle in a haystack. It’s a fascinating world that fits the story and Lawrence characterizes it well without bogging the plot down with pages and pages of description.
I also want to take a brief second to commend the author on his use of flashbacks to tell Snorri’s tale. Since the book is told from Jal’s point of view and having Snorri’s story is essential to the overall plot, I thought that Lawrence handling it as he did was brilliant. It would have been easy to just have Snorri spout exposition to summarize what he’s been through, but instead the author chooses to have us be taken fully into the Norseman’s past in a third person narrative that Jal is also supposed to be listening to. I was a little skeptical the first time it was used, but it ended up really working as a way to weave these two plots together without drowning us in exposition.
I had also been a little concerned about being lost since I haven’t read the “Broken Empire” trilogy, but it ended up not being an issue. Jalan and Jorg (the main character from the first trilogy) almost cross paths once, and it’s pretty hilarious…but enough is explained that you’ll get it even if you haven’t read Jorg’s books. Otherwise, I didn’t feel like I was missing out on anything pertinent to the story in “Prince of Fools.”
My singular complaint is how easily the duo is able to obtain information. As I mentioned above, magic isn’t exactly commonplace in this world, and finding people who know anything about it can be quite a challenge, or so Jal makes it seem. In actuality, they seem to bump into people with knowledge relevant to their plight pretty easily. I guess one could argue that the spell is leading them to these individuals and I could also see why the author wouldn’t want to devote pages to the pair wandering about looking for information, but it just felt a tad too convenient. It’s a minor quibble, however, and the book was paced so well that it didn’t affect my overall enjoyment of the novel.
So, are you one of those people that groans whenever they come across the romance that seems shoehorned into every single novel? I am. Well, you’ll be pleased to know that “Prince of Fools” features no romance. Yup, you read that right: there is no relationship drama in this book. Shocking, right? Jalan is a very successful seducer of women, and he manages to charm many a young lady to his bed in these pages, but there’s absolutely no cliché of him falling in love with any of them. The primary relationship is the burgeoning bromance between Jal and Snorri. They start as unwilling travel companions and end as friends, and Lawrence takes great care in showing us how they gradually get there. It’s so refreshing to come across a book that’s more interested in developing a platonic friendship than it is shoving a romance where it isn’t needed. It’s actually a difficult to put into words how bloody delighted I was when I realized that this was all going to be about the unlikely friendship between a prince and a Norseman as they face a huge threat together. I only hope that this continues through the next two books.
What really makes “Prince of Fools” stand out is its characters. Prince Jalan is very different from the heroes we’ve come to expect from fantasy. He’s not virtuous or brave, nor is he interested in putting his life on the line for the greater good. Nope, our protagonist is a spoiled young man (twenty-two, I believe) who lives for the shallower pleasures of life: drinking, placing bets in the fighting pits, and seducing women…and he wouldn’t have it any other way. He did a brief stint in Red March’s military and, through blundering from one battle to another in his desperate attempt to “retreat” from the enemy, has earned himself the distinction of the Hero of the Aral Pass, a title that makes him a hit with the ladies, but he’s glad to have that part of his life firmly behind him. He’s a self-professed coward whose first instinct upon running into trouble is to run away (screaming sometimes, no less), but he sees no shame in this since it keeps him alive and able to continue enjoying his existence. Despite all of this, he’s an insanely likable character, possibly because he’s so honest with himself and isn’t under any illusions when it comes to his tendencies. He usually knows what the right thing to do is, he just often doesn’t want to do it because it’s easier or safer to run away, lie, or otherwise leave the problem to someone else. Jal doesn’t want to be involved in this adventure and is only dragged along because the spell won’t let him leave Snorri’s side. And he definitely grows through the experience. It’s fun watching him develop throughout the course of the story and we’re there for every step of it. That’s not to say that he’s become a straight-laced protector of morality by the end. He realizes that there’s more to both himself and life than whiling away the days in taverns, but he’s still going to enjoy his pleasures when he can. Jalan is a wonderful main character, different from what we usually see and chock full of personality.
Jal is also the ideal narrator for this tale. The book is written in the first person point of view, and I’ve always maintained that this perspective is best utilized when the point of view character either has an interesting voice or a unique bias. Jalan has both. He’s delightfully sarcastic, sometimes a little scathing, and his witty commentary often adds a lighthearted tone to a rather dark scenario. He always has some sort of comment on whatever is going on and it’s usually pretty entertaining. His view of himself is usually a tad self-deprecating, but he’s confident in the abilities that he has and is well aware of the ones he doesn’t…he also has priorities amusingly straight, which are of course Prince Jalan, Prince Jalan, and Prince Jalan. I was especially pleased to see that Jal’s take on events can be a bit biased; that is, he’s so good at lying that he sometimes ends up believing his own lies over the truth. He also has the tendency to blank out during fights and has to be told of his actions by others, even sometimes not being able to remember scuffles we witnessed through his own eyes. Lawrence has used this perspective to absolute perfection and I often felt like I wasn’t reading so much as being told the story by Jal himself, which is exactly what I want from a novel in the first-person. So well done, Lawrence, well done.
The other main character is Snorri, a fierce Norseman who will stop at nothing to get his family back. He’s pretty much the opposite of Jal: brave, ambitious, determined, and happy to risk his life if it gets him to his goal. While the spell filled Jal with light, Snorri received darkness and the advice of a demigod named Aslaug that attempts to steer him toward a more violent path. It’s an interesting struggle; Snorri is more than happy to be a Viking warrior when needed, but his nature isn’t to be cruel. If I’m going to be honest, he doesn’t really grow too much as a character…but, oddly, that really sort of works here. You see, Snorri strikes me as the kind of man who has already figured out who he is. He’s already undergone trials of personality and tests to determine the true nature of his character, and he’s both happy and confident with himself and his skills. He’s just trying to get back the life he once had, and given the outcome of that, I wonder wat the next book has in store for him. Snorri is an interesting contrast to Jal which makes their growing friendship (that bromance I mentioned earlier) all the more intriguing.
Aside from friendship, the other big theme between these two is bravery. Snorri is perhaps the embodiment of courage while Jal prefers to hide behind those bigger than him. Jal tells us over and over that he’s a coward, but his Viking companion is quick to point out that the prince constantly engages in acts more heroic than he gives himself credit for. In fact, it often seems like Snorri knows Jal better than Jal knows himself, and he’s intent on making the prince see his potential. Jal does wonder if he may be brave simply because he’s not afraid of being afraid as many other men are, but he’s quick to dismiss that idea and hide behind his safe wall of cowardice. By the book’s conclusion, Jal has realized that he’s more capable of brave deeds than he would have thought, something that readers likely will have realized already. It’s an interesting example of telling versus showing: Jal tells us that he’s a coward, but we’re often shown through his actions that this simply isn’t always true. It’s a great theme that aids quite a bit in the growth of the characters’ relationship as well as the characters themselves.
As a side note, their vastly different personalities result in some greatly amusing interactions. I would be happy reading a few hundred pages of these two discussing the weather, they’re that entertaining. Their conversations and banter are a large part of why I didn’t mind the lengthy travel; simply put, they keep it from being boring. These two are a real treat together and I look forward to seeing more of them.
Other characters pop in and out of the story. Most don’t receive a tonne of development simply because they don’t need it. They’re distinct enough to stand out and make an impression on both the characters and the readers, but don’t take any time away from the main characters. I personally really liked the personalities of the Vikings that accompany Snorri and Jal North, and most of the other figures are interesting enough. On a personal note, this is one of the very few books I’ve read to date where I liked all of the characters. I honestly can’t think of one that I hated or thought was poorly characterized, and someone who can be very critical of characters, that’s rare for me.
To sum it all up in one word: Wow! “Prince of Fools” had everything I enjoy in a novel: an intriguing premise, a unique world, fascinating characters, and good storytelling. It hooked me on page one and kept me along for the adventure to the end. Prince Jalan is the most entertaining narrator I’ve ever encountered and I loved that the author forewent a cliché romance to focus instead on a friendship. I’d never read any of Mark Lawrence’s works before this, but I think it’s time to change that. He’s easily become one of my favourite fantasy writers from this book alone. I give “Prince of Fools” five stars and would enthusiastically give it more if possible for being as close to the perfect book for me as I’ve come across yet.
To set the stage for my review, understand that this was my first forray into the wild mind of Mark Lawrence. I had a good understanding of what to expect, if I were to ever read through the Broken Empire trilogy, so anything that I might read in the Prince of Fools wouldn't surprise me. I was firmly grounded with an understanding that our protagonist would very likely be an unlikable bastard to some Nth degree, but I was prepared for that.
Now Jalan Kendeth was no Jorg, but he was a slimy character indeed. I hated him from the start. I even told my wife from the begining, "Yeah, not sure I'm gonna like this one. I'll finish it, but—yeah..." I was determined to read it, for no other reason than the fact that Mark Lawrence had come so highly recommended by—well, everyone. So I just dug in, and let the story take me, and take me it did!
Jalan's self-seeking nature and absolute lack of a moral compass for the majority of the story was irritating. So often I wanted him to get the comeuppance that he narrowly escaped so often. You hoped that if his honorable (at least by Viking standards) counterpart Snorri ver Snagason couldn't rub off on him, that at least the mighty angel who frequented his dreams would at least convict him to alter his course. Interstingly, it is this thread of hope that runs throughout the story of Jalan's adventures and misdeeds, that Lawrence is able to pull on to keep you closely knit to, even endeared in some strange way to, this spineless weasle of a man.
One of the greatest sections of that thread that Lawrence penned was at the end of chapter 11. I will spare you the details, as to avoid the spoiler, but for the very first time in the story, Jalan actually shows the tiniest ounce of compassion for another human being. As he listened to Snorri's tale of woe, something inside him stirs. Jalan calls it Snorri's magic. The Norseman's tragic tale of sorrow is the first thing to conjure this magic called compassion, inside the prince's heart. When reading these passages, you also realize, that perhapse our narrator is onto something. It is magic. What I mean, is that Lawrence's writing, especially as he details Snorri's bitter memories, are masterfully written. Lawrence has many poignant moments of prose, his shortest often being the most evocative, and the following line from said chatper is one of the best.
“Death was kind.” He drew a sharp breath. “But no father should have to give such kindness to his child.
Perhaps it is only due to my sensitivities as a father, but this simple line hit me like a ton of bricks. It also made me love our Viking hero even more. Speaking of Snorri, I must say he is one of my favorite characters that I have read about, ever. Physically, he is the epitome of the Viking warrior, a giant, axe wielding barbarian. I love that he continually shows he is more educated than our spoiled prince, and his honor, according to his customs, is impeccable. He always seems to be one step-ahead of the prince, in just about every regard. Add his internal battles with Aslaug to the list, and you have this wonderful character, that you can't help but root for.
Another one of the things that I really appreciated about the Prince of Fools is the magic that bound them together. I won't spill the details, but the inventiveness of the light and dark was just awesome. Light versus dark is certainly not a new concept, but the deployment here is really cool (Well done my friend). I also loved the waffling that we experience with Jalan as we travel deeper into his psyche. I began to wonder if I had been had all along, and if he was truly just an unreliable narrator, who was believing his own lies. a victim to his own ruse. Maybe, maybe not. You will have to read it to decide. The final thing that I really liked, was the cameo of Jorg. Now I don't know Jorg, but his brief inclusion into the story added a certain depth to the world, along with a great deal of mystery. It let me know that this world was much bigger than this story, and I loved it! Will I read the Broken Empire trilogy? I don't know, but now I am more inclined to do so.
Now, like with any book, there are pieces that we don't love. These are usually just a matter of opinion, and they very well could be the very things that another person loves. Here is my (very) short list.
Jalan was a horny, self-centered scumbag. I get it. I just wish his narrative wasn't so sexually driven. He was worse than the thirteen year old boy who produces the Game of Thrones tv show. At least it isn't graphic.
My only dislike regarding Snorri was his speech pattern. I would have liked for a more unique voice, or dialect, for all the Vikings actually. However, having a more common speech pattern was probably a blessing, considering the amount of dialog he has. Overall, not a big deal.
This next gripe probably could have been cleared up by having actually read the Broken Empire trilogy, but I was confused when I read the world trains. Up until that point, I was honestly oblivious to the fact that we were in some far-future that had returned to more primitive ways. So the train bit confused me. Then I was curious why there were so few "artifacts" left behind by the "builders". There is probably a reasonable explanation, but I missed it.
The final thing that I had a hard time with in the book, was Mr. Lawrence's writing style. Now I want to be clear, the book is wonderfully written. I just found that on occassion, I would run across a sentence that would cause me to stumble. I couldn't always put my finger on it, but the lines just did not flow naturally to me. It seemed that they were either disjointed or inverted. They were not exactly Yoda lines, but they didn't flow well. If it were in dialogue, no one would think twice about it. However, when it is not in dialogue it feels clunky. My only thought is that since Jalan is our narrator, it is his internal dialogue. If that is indeed the reason, then it makes sense. That being said, maybe it's just me, picking on things that don't need to be picked on.
Overall, I really liked the first installment of the Prince of Fools. The few issues noted above were not enough to steal my enjoyment., and I look forward to continuing The Red Queen's War, by reading The Liar's Key.
Top reviews from other countries
This is a difficult book to describe. It isn't quite like any other book I have ever read, and I have read quite a few. The books it comes closest to in my opinion are Game of Thrones, Lord of the Rings and the eddas. It is not based on the Norse myths but has undoubtedly been influenced by them. The main characters immediately made me think of Loki and Thor, but the resemblance is only in character. The story itself is completely original.
It begins with a minor prince, far removed from the crown, and more importantly, the crown jewels and coffers. Prince Jalan spends his time gambling, drinking and chasing women.. or running from their enraged fathers, brothers or husbands. His one claim to fame is a bit of accidental heroism in a minor war. His only virtue is honesty, unless lying better suits his needs. But he is at least honest with himself. He is a coward, lazy and selfish. So when he sees a chance to save himself from the wages of his own inequities by sacrificing an innocent man, he takes it.
Snorri is very thing Hal is not. He is brave, noble and virtuous. Though he wields an axe rather than a hammer, Snorri has all the same qualities as Thor, he is a defender by nature and will do anything to find and defend those he loves.
But things don't go quite to plan for Jal. Instead of Snorrii getting him out of trouble he gets him into a lot more. He soon finds himself bound by a deadly curse to the very same man he tried to harm. One of them is possessed by a spirit of light and the other by a spirit of darkness. The twist is, Jal is possessed by light and Snorri by darkness. Everything about them right down to their very nature will be tried on an epic quest. For Snorri, it is a rescue mission as he desperately tries to save those he holds most dear. Jal wants to save his most dearly beloved as well - himself.
I realise I have not done justice to this book. Reading the description,it hardly sounds like one of the best books you will ever read. I have tread carefully, to avoid any spoilers, but the magic in this book is not so much in the quest, but in the incredible development of the characters, the wit and humour as well as the horror. There is action, adventure and the fellowship of the road but there is much more than that. The author weaves his own magic with the words of his story and it is a magic that defies description. My apologies if this review seems rushed. It is. I just can't wait to delve into book two 'The Liars Key'.
With Snorri troubles were always put front and centre and dealt with. My style was more to shove them under the rug until the floor got too uneven to navigate, and then to move house.
So much of this book seemed like a reward for the bitter, thorny poetry of the Broken Empire Trilogy. It's more light hearted, despite dark themes and the dead walking, with real humour, wit, and verve in both Jalan and Snorri. I spent much of my time reading Prince of Thorns highlighting passages that spoke to me or were honed killer-sharp, yet here the words blurred beneath my eyes as I sped through the story. In fact, I hadn't noticed how much of this is spent with the two men travelling until I read other reviews on this site (and which garnered a few complaints) because their relationship grew with each step and I could feel every change in the wind. It was particularly impressive for me as i'm not really that into Norse mythology or the whole Viking thing, which is why I put off reading this trilogy, but now I'm fully invested.
Then there's the crossover with characters from Thorns, a moment of meeting that made me do a double take: hang on...is that????
An excellent start to an intriguing series and i'm not stopping till i'm done.
Prince Jal is a playboy, and likes it that way. Snorri is a family man, and likes it that way. Naturally, neither of them gets to carry on with life the way they want. Snorri is easier to like (being a more typical hero) than the deliberately shallow, selfish Jal - but I found Jal grew on me. In some ways, he reminds me of George McDonald Fraser's Flashman, another coward with the kind of honesty that makes you wonder if, in some way, he's the only truly honourable character in the book. Jal isn't quite there yet, but I wonder if that's the road he's taking.
The pair's road trip was entertaining - you can't not enjoy something with a preternaturally knowledgeable circus-master, and an army of plastic mannequins (sequentially, not simultaneously). One also has the fun of matching up the post-apocalyptic landscape to the real landscape, and working out where everything is. However, I did think that some of the escapes from danger came rather easily.
All in all, a very enjoyable read, and I'll be continuing with the series.
Jal is such a fun character to be in the head of, and although grimdark, this was a surprisingly upbeat book. The friendship that blossomed between Jal and Snorri was perfect and also the book plays into one of my favourite tropes - forced friendship/proximity. As always the fantasy, magic and world were incredible.
The being said... oh man, the Snorri stories felt loooong, and that's what lost this book the 5th star. If you've read the Broken Empire series, you will be used to a fast pace and the back-flashes holding cryptic meaning... sadly this wasn't the case here. The teasing out of Snorri's story wasn't worth the end payoff and didn't really serve the end twist/story. It could have been told in one scene and been left as his backstory whilst we focus on the present. I would have much preferred the pages and pages of Snorri's stories to be filled with Jal and Snorri on their adventure to the north!
While the writing is enjoyable in the moment and in short bursts, I don't tend to find it too engaging and find my attention wandering off quite often and have to reread passages. I also tended to find that I didn't particularly care what was happening to the characters, I just felt I was along for the ride without a clear idea of where I was going or why. I think Lawrence has said this is how he writes, he knows who the characters are and where they are headed but a lot of the plot emerges as he writes. This seems to please a lot of fans, but I don't think I have the discipline for that sort of reading. I'm the same with open-world video games - I don't have the discipline to force myself to focus on one mission, I wander off up a mountain and get mauled by a lion after not saving for an hour. I need a degree of linearity in my life and can't deal with too much chaos. But this is about me and not a criticism of the book.
Overall I enjoyed the read but felt at times the journey was a little bumpy.