Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Book Review: Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence

Prince of Thorns is about a charming fourteen year old sociopath hell bent on carving a bloody path of revenge after having witnessed the heinous murder of his mother and younger brother stuck helpless in patch of briar thorns. The prince comes back after four years to extract revenge but his father’s castle might no longer be the place he grew up in, instead it becomes a treacherous labyrinth of back stabbings and swirling dark magic.

It’s a little shit kicker of a book that blows up in your face and clinically butchers any preconceived notions you might have had about this typical fantasy trope of a young boy growing up into his destiny. I absolutely loved it. All my initial qualms of reading up about a young boy twisted by his overarching desires to extract a bloody revenge who doesn’t give a second thought to sacrificing blood brothers or young girls started slipping as I got caught by the mesmerizing manner in which Mark Lawrence has fleshed  out his tale. Full of treachery, bloody double crossings, dark magic and ghostly apparitions, it satisfied me on every plane as a dark fantasy junkie. Not to say this book didn’t have its moments of rib ticking funny humor but the whole premise and settings of the book is so dark that you might just get carried away in the flow and fail to notice these gems.

Regarded by most as the best debut of the year when it came out, Prince of Thorns is the first book in a trilogy that follows Prince Honorous Jorg Ancrath reclaim his victorious revenge against his enemies and plan out his path to become a king of kings, the emperor fueled on by his bloody desires and an uncanny war genius. He carves a path rife with ghosts who seduce, monsters who make you squirm, back stabbing blood relations and countless moments of pure mind numbing thrills. You would think it’s awful to be trapped inside the scheming head of a bloody psychopath who thinks of nothing but to avenge the murder of his mother and brother, but Mark Lawrence makes it almost a pleasure to be around with Jorge. That is why the book is a winner.  In spite of the myriad disturbing imagery that plays out in his head and in his real life, Jorg remains a charmer – always with a last trick up his sleeve that rescues him from slippery slopes ( literally so, slick with the blood of his enemies, followers, friends!!)

After having run away from his destiny as heir to the throne, Jorg joins hands with a bunch of blood thirsty thugs who are wanted by law and uses this brotherhood to fuel up his bloody desires.  It has drawn comparisons with some graphic novels, some say it’s like Prince of Nothing (I would disagree here! This 14-year old is a wily charmer who can slip up behind up you and slip a blade between your shoulders in the blink of an eye and think nothing of it while casually discussing how to blow up castles for a living – could think of no parallel in recent fantasy fiction!) 

Mark Lawrence’s amazing prowess with words was another reason that elevates this book from being another of those gritty grisly heavy dark tales that end up being panned and shunned.  

“You soon learn there’s no elegance or dignity in death if you spend time in the castle kitchens”

“I took him to be about thirty but it’s hard to tell with fat people; they’ve no skin spare for wrinkles”

And sample this, one of my favorite quotes – “Anyone who had seen him take out a six-strong foot patrol with hatchet and knife would tell you that the man had an artist’s soul.” 

If that ain’t a poetic description of a man’s skill with blade and death, then show me a poet damned!
Living inside Jorg’s head getting to the roots of the how, what and why he set out on this path is the reward you get for venturing to read this little gem. As an author, Mark Lawrence has gambled on his narrator, placing all bets on this little no-holds barred remorseless little sociopath. I loved him. but I think it is a very bold gamble and it depends on the reader’s perspective of this narration style. A slim book that packs so much into its 300-odd pages, the prose is excellent and is mostly a reason why I enjoyed it. The world building is minimal, with hints at a post-apocalyptic earth – but reads like a novel set in a secondary fantasy world with a lot of medieval influence and some unexplained magic that is pivotal to the story. Jorg quotes from and reads a lot of philosophers like Plato, Nietzsche, thus letting us know this is probably a world akin to ours. 

Why should you read this one? 
A novel with a multilayered narrative whipping back and forth between the present and past delving into the reasons for Jorg’s mad ambition, an incredibly compelling narrator who swings between insane and genius, some well fleshed out secondary characters who add to the juicy narrative are just tip of the iceberg. I would ask you to join Jorge on this crazy dangerous journey for this and a lot of more. Ghosts, monsters, magicians, you get all this and more. It’s more of a psychological thriller set inside a mad genius’s mind and trust me, it ain’t a pretty place but it’s definitle the most interesting and exciting place you would ever be. Prince of Thorns is an incredibly polished debut that would score high on every fantasy readers’ graphs. Highly recommended for any fan of Fantasy genre or even otherwise.

Monday, March 4, 2013

In the Promised Land of the Brave, San Diego & Taken 2

So I hit the US of A about last week and have been loving this country ever since. Travelled to San Diego over the weekend, met up my oldest college friends and it was a hoot. Lucky that am in California and not anywhere else as the cold wave continues across the rest of the country but here, in South California, it is blessed weather. 

Watched like 4 different movies - The Oscar winning Argo, the super successful adorable wimpy kid brought to screen – Dog Days : Diary of a Wimpy Kid, a Chinese martial arts meets steampunk action extravaganza called Tai-Chi Zero and fourth, counting today’s lame and insipid sequel to the smash hit Taken franchise, Taken 2.

Going to rant about Taken 2 today since I was so let down. 

To say the least, it was such a mind fuck. It is in no way comparable to the bone-crunching in-your-face- unapologetic action jet-thriller that the first movie was – where you held your breath and cheered in loud gusty whoops as you watched Liam Neeson take on the baddies and stomp them to bloody pulp without mercy. The formula remains the same. Action has been downgraded and watered down to like one tenth of the last outing, the villain, even though shows a lot of menacing promise in the beginning falls way short of any expectation and the explosive action-laced climax you been waiting for, never really arrives. The movie is like watching a rerun of an old action drama that you watch to kill time without any real interest. Liam Neeson tries to breathe some life into this sagging almost unbearable movie. He too gives up sometime into the movie though. Like he says at the end of the movie, “I’m so tired of all this” – Exactly what I felt. He mumbles through his lines like a patient stuck full of sedatives, sleep walks through action sequences, lazily blocking chops and hardly moving around – it was like watching an uninspired dance sequence in slow motion. The first half of the movie where the premise is set up introduces us to the antagonist, the father of the Albanian gangsters who got killed by Brian (Liam’s character) – a mean injured father who promises menace and death to the man who killed his sons and relatives – and sadly I got my hopes up.
We cut back to Brian – a doting over protective father wasting his time tailing his cute-as-a-button daughter Maggie Grace ( who by the way, does show some acting genes!) and taking a vacation in Istanbul. The pace picks up as the antagonist this time target both the mother and father – holding the mother as captive to lure Brian – most of the action is set in rustic surroundings of Istanbul, the muezzin calls and the dirty side streets forming perfect backdrop to the car chases and the stoic silent hand to hand brutal action set pieces.  Brian sets out to free his ex-wife, this time with a little help from his daughter, Maggie Grace pitching in on some harrowing action scenes on the rooftops of Turkey. 

All this cannot sadly save a movie low on plot and imagination and disappointingly low on the action thrills, nothing that can shock you and make you sit up like you did with the original Taken. The dialogs were such a horror – take this for example, when his daughter in tears asks about her mother and what he is going to do about it, Liam Neeson effortlessly hams, “What I do best.” I felt like taking a revolver to my head at that point, but sickening and uninspiring as it was, I watched the rest of it, hoping for redemption in a climax. It never came. 

So all in all, it was one of the biggest duds I watched in recent times, hope they kill this franchise unless they can think of some more original believable plot lines and infuse back the life that was missing after part one.