Thursday, December 24, 2015

CBR7 Review 6: Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence

“Hate will keep you alive where love fails”

I don't know what possessed me, in the lead up to Christmas, to read this book in particular. Nor what motivated me to keep reading when I realized just how dark it is. However, I'm not upset that I did, even if it was an awfully dark, twisted sort of story to read in the holiday season.

This book, the start of a series, tells the story of Prince Honorous Jorg Ancrath. Known as Brother Jorg to the men he leads on the road, our protagonist journeys from an innocent child witnessing the murder of much of his family to one of the darkest, most sociopathic characters I've ever seen. Something breaks in Jorg the night his mother and brother are taken from him, as he struggles to free himself from the thorn bush that holds him fast. Jorg heals from his injuries physically, but mentally and emotionally he is never the same. Four years pass between this horrific turning point and the setting of our story, with Jorg recalling some of what happened to put him on this path in chapters conveniently labelled "Four Years Ago." Jorg, although only reaching the age of 14 during the course of this volume, manages to commit some truly horrific crimes as he raids the countryside with his band of brothers, on a path to revenge and power.

It's important to understand the setting of this book, since it makes what Jorg does a little more...understandable is the wrong word, but the context at least makes it less insane. The Empire has been fighting a war, or really series of battles, known as The Hundred. The land is hopelessly fractured, with a hundred small nations all competing for power that none of them are likely to ever hold. It's the perfect environment to nurture the kind of brutality our protagonist is famous for. Coming to this book as a lover of things dark and violent (I've read and watched all of Game of Thrones, I adore Vikings, etc), I wasn't particularly scandalized by the violence perpetrated by any of the characters. What I found interesting and compelling was the internal dialogue of Jorg - how he chose to justify what he did, how little he minds sacrificing those close to him, and the complete lack of emotion with which he addresses just about everything. 

Jorg is a terrifying and awful character...and I loved him anyway. Loved not in an affectionate way, but loved as a character. For all that he is brutal and unrepentant, I'll be damned if he isn't charismatic and interesting. I'm glad for it, because this book wouldn't work any other way. It feels a little weird to care about and possibly root for (the jury's still out on whether or not I *really* want him to succeed in what he does) such a dark and terrible character, but you kind of can't help it. It's very, VERY easy to forget how young Jorg is. He kills for the first time at 10, and the things he does at 13 & 14 are crimes you'd be upset and surprised to hear an adult committed, let alone a pre-teen. 

I will tell you, this book is *not* going to appeal to everyone. There is a lot of darkness, and a lot of violence, and much of it committed by or ordered by our young protagonist. If that's not your cup of tea, feel free to skip it. But it's a really interesting and very different entry to the fantasy genre. I know I didn't mention any of the fantastical elements, but I think it's better to come across them in the course of the narrative instead of letting me tell you about them - suffice it to say that magic and fantasy to play a role in this story. Will I pick up the next one? Possibly, but I think I need a small break before diving back into Jorg's darkness.


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Friday, December 18, 2015

CBR 7 Review 5: The Secret History of the Pink Carnation by Lauren Willig

“The French just said he was a damned nuisance. Or they would have had they the good fortune to speak English. Instead being French they were forced to say it in their own language.” 

I know you'll be shocked when you discover I'm reading yet another book that is part of a series (well, maybe you are - if you are only reading CBR7, you don't know my reading proclivities as yet). However, this is one that, while enjoyable, doesn't motivate me to continue the rest of the journey. It's probably just as well. While I'm a habitual reader of series, even to me, 12 is a *lot* of books. I do recommend you look at the list of titles Willig has come up with to keep to the Color Flower combo for the title characters - there is some serious struggle going on after awhile ( MIDNIGHT MANZANILLA??). That said, let's dive right in.

This story is set in one of my favorite formats, albeit less successfully so, which is that of the multiple time period structure. I'm a fan of my historical fiction being brought to me via a contemporary (or more contemporary than whatever they are finding out about). Eloise Kelly is our intrepid principle narrator, an American transplant in London pursuing her dissertation on The Scarlet Pimpernel and other spies like him. Eloise gets the opportunity to read some very interested documents held by the descendants of the Purple Gentian, documents that may finally reveal the identity of an even more elusive spy - The Pink Carnation. 

As Eloise reads, we are transported back in time to 1803 and three different narrators - Amy Balcourt, our heroine, Richard Selwick, the Purple Gentian himself, and, for reasons I'm still not really clear on, Delaroche, the vicious French police inspector. Through these people we learn of romance, intrigue, and, yes, the identity of the titular Pink Carnation. We are swept back to Eloise periodically, as she is challenged by the nephew of the woman who provides all these secret family documents. Colin is *not* pleased to be sharing family secrets, especially not to an American. Their conflict is the centerpiece to Eloise's portion of the story. The historical section is focused on Amy's discovery of the identity of the Purple Gentian (a thing we know from the start), and the English objective to subvert Bonaparte's intended invasion of Great Britain.

From a POV perspective, the only notable misstep is the inclusion of Delaroche. We don't need him. He's literary filler. The things revealed in his chapters don't provide more depth to his character, and the story points they uncover are better left either unsaid, or shown later as they come to pass. He's a mustache twirling kind of villain, and we don't care what he's thinking. The book would be tighter without it. I liked being in all the other perspectives, and appreciated that Eloise, Richard and Amy all had different voices to bring to the table. 

In terms of plot, nothing particularly revolutionary to uncover here. You know certain characters are safe by dint of history, and it's not even history you had to know ahead of time, as Eloise fills us in on enough to be certain of some things from the get go. Espionage and torture and the like are great when the stakes are higher. I never really felt like there was much to lose with these characters, which reduces the impact of the story. It's also not terribly hard to figure out the identity of the Pink Carnation if you care to look for it. Willig utilizes the normal mystery tool of red herrings, but they are unlikely to fool anyone.

All that said, it's still a fun romp through Bonaparte's France. There's reasonable set up for the sequel, in particular in the modern story, as Eloise sets off with Colin for a weekend at the family estate at book's end. I liked the characters, Richard in particular, and it was a fun, easy read. I'm just not invested enough to continue. However, that may not be true for you, so feel free to give this one a whirl and see if it grabs you! I've heard tell that the series gets progressively better, so if you've got the time and desire to see it through, more power to you.