Prince of Fools (The Red Queen’s War #1)

Prince of Fools Book Cover Prince of Fools
The Red Queen's War
Mark Lawrence
Fantasy
Ace
June 3, 2014
Paperback
355

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.

 

So, the Red Queen’s War series takes place in the same world as the Broken Empire trilogy. Same setting, same(ish) time, mostly new characters. I wouldn’t say that it’s really necessary to read the Broken Empire books first. However, certain things make a lot more sense if you have. And a few things about the Broken Empire books do get spoiled throughout this trilogy, so consider yourself warned.

Now despite being in the same world, the narrative in Prince of Fools is very different from the previous trilogy. Mainly because of the protagonist, Prince Jalan. Whereas Jorg was a heartless bastard who brought himself up in a cruel dog-eat-dog world, Jalan has lived an easy life. If I had to compare Jalan to another character, Tyrion Lannister at the start of Game of Thrones (before he had any character development) comes to mind. But less clever and more reliant on sheer dumb luck. Happy to live out his days in luxury using his family’s wealth, until The Thing happens.

Anyone familiar with these stories knows they always kick off with The Thing happening. Destiny calls, the protagonist is the chosen one, and a hero will rise! Or, you get someone like Jalan who has to be dragged towards the quest. Pretty sure Jalan himself puts it best, “I’m a liar and a cheat and a coward, but I will never, ever let a friend down. Unless of course not letting them down requires honesty, fair play, or bravery.” He is a dirty coward and while he certainly has a lot of luck, it’s not always good luck. The pendulum swings both ways hard for this poor bastard.

And then we get our 2nd protagonist, Snorri, who is a viking. And…that’s kind of it. He’s a viking, that’s his character. If you’ve watched Vikings or played Skyrim, you know what to expect here. There is admittingly a bit more to it than that and Snorri really helps to balance out Jalan’s character. Which is really the point; he is the stoic warrior opposite of Jalan’s reluctant/accidental heroism. They make a hell of a pair, something other characters comment on throughout the story, and spawn an epic bromance.

This is a powerful start to a new trilogy and shows a lot of depth to Mark Lawrence’s skill as an author. I say that as someone who has only read the Broken Empire trilogy and none of his other work before picking up Prince of Fools. This is the same world but it’s not the same type of story. Broken Empire was extremely grimdark while this is more of your standard fantasy fare. Nonetheless, it’s going to be one hell of a trilogy.

March 7, 2021

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