Hippoi Athanatoi

Hooked on the Thorns

Guess what? The site redo stalled again, go figure. But at least I got a lot further this time. Now I am stuck pondering whether Reviews should just be folded in under this blog or if it makes sense to have proper reviews of single books, single episodes, etc separated out. Or perhaps I should just simplify the structure of the reviews so they work for covering a whole book series, a season of a show, etc.

But for now, I’ve been itching to comment on a few things that I’ve read and watched lately; Mark Lawrence’s The Girl and the Mountain (or more accurately, almost everything by Mark Lawrence), Leigh Bardugo’s Rule of Wolves as well as the adaptation of Shadow and Bone and The Nevers. I had planned on just one post, but its already growing at an alarming rate so lets do it one thing at a time.

I’ve been aware of Mark Lawrence for a number of years. I even gave a sample of Prince of Thorns a try soon after it came out, but I had read about it being very grimdark and also a post-apocalyptic setting. Neither of these really intrigued me at the time, so I didn’t give it a fair shot. However, over the last decade or so I have become increasingly disillusioned with the state of new fantasy and found myself reading less and less. On the one hand, I feel like the output in the genre has been growing more and more polarised, with YA romance on one side and grimdark on the other and much less in-between. On the other hand, and I find this hard to express well in a few words, I also feel like the genre has been negatively affected by certain aspects of identity politics.

Incidentally, that ties into why I ended up giving Prince of Thorns a second try. There was a bit of Twitter upset around it that (to my understanding) started with complaints about violence against female characters and a lack of female characters with agency. Since I disagree with other opinions put forward by some of those who made these complaints, I figured it might be a book for me after all. And yes, it was. It is true that the start of Prince of Thorns is pretty brutal and takes some getting used to, but no more so than Mary Gentle’s Ash, and once I got used to Jorg I was hooked. Yeah sure, he’s not a nice guy, but you come to understand him and how he turned out this way. In some ways, he reminds me of another much-maligned main character, Thomas Covenant, who is also up there as one of my favourite characters in literature. Of course, Jorg also comes with a side of natural aristocratic arrogance, so even if he wasn’t marked by trauma he would still have had those aspects of his personality. I also felt as if there were elements of Glen Cook’s The Black Company in the books and for some reason I really like those despite how horribly bleak they can be. Even though I generally like a lot of “sense of wonder” in my fantasy, there’s a pessimistic masochist living in side of me that thrives on darker thing too.

Still, after devouring the whole Broken Empire trilogy, I was somehow a little hesitant about going on to The Red Queen’s War. Humorous fantasy hasn’t been my thing in the past either. But since I really, really liked the world-building in The Broken Empire, I gave it a go. Turns out that it blends just the right about of darkness and humour to be quite delicious. So, yeah, I devoured that trilogy too. If you like interesting, flawed characters (those two usually go together), a dark but fascinating world and excellent writing, you really need to give these books a try.

But what about this The Girl and the Mountain book, where does it fit in? Ah, well, for that we have to move to a new world, Abeth with its dying Sun. And if you prefer books with female protagonists, this may be where you want to start with Lawrence. First, there’s the Book of the Ancestor trilogy, which follows Nona and fellow Novices and Sisters at the convent of Sweet Mercy. A convent for, essentially, assassin nuns. I admit, I prefer both Jorg’s and Jalan’s stories to Nona’s, but these are also very well-written books. The setting may be a little too oppressive for me, even though it is less traditionally grimdark. Something about dying suns always triggers an existential crisis in me. That said, I am currently really enjoying Lawrence’s second trilogy set on Abeth, Book of the Ice, which so far consists of The Girl and the Stars and The Girl and the Mountain. I would definitely suggest reading these two trilogies in order, since there are some pretty major revelations about the world in The Girl and the Mountain. In fact, I think that the fact that there’s more about the world in the second trilogy is one reason why I am feeling more swept away by it so far.

I know, not much of a review of The Girl and the Mountain, but I wanted to start by just rambling on a bit about Lawrence’s writing in general instead of trying to focus my thoughts and dissecting a particular book. I really do feel he’s produced some of the best fantasy of the past 10 years and if you like writers like Stephen R. Donaldson, Glen Cook and Mary Gentle, you should definitely check him out. If you start with Prince of Thorns, hang in there for a while and give it a real chance. There were parts I had to skim (or at the very least not linger on in detail) since I am rather squeamish, but I do the same with parts of A Song of Ice and Fire and many other books with descriptions of violence. In fact, any setting featuring weapons with sharp edges tend to have that effect on me. I still read and love fantasy and if you do too, then try Mark Lawrence.

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