Format: e-book, mobi
Genre: dark fantasy
Target audience: adults
Summary (mostly from Amazon.com):
A young prince like no other but hardly a Prince Charming. When he was nine, he watched his mother and brother brutally killed before him. One year later he ran off his father’s castle, freeing some men condemned to death and joining their band. By the time he was thirteen, he was the leader of that band, a group of bloodthirsty thugs calling each other “brother”. By fifteen, he intends to be king and by twenty – emperor…or better.
Before it happens, it’s time for Prince Honorous Jorg Ancrath to return to the castle he turned his back on, to take what’s rightfully his. Since the day he was hung on the thorns of a briar patch and forced to watch Count Renar’s men rape his mother and slaughter his young brother, Jorg has been driven to vent his rage. Life and death are no more than a game to him- and it seems he has nothing left to lose.
But treachery awaits him in his father’s castle. Treachery and dark magic. No matter how fierce, can the will of one young man conquer enemies with power beyond his imagining?
What I liked:
The book is told from Jorg’s point of view (the first person narration) and I consider it a huge asset, although normally I prefer the third person variety. We get to know this unusual prince’s inner turmoil and find out that many scars on his psyche seem to reflect only too well what he’s been through and what’s happening around him. He is simply haunted with darkness and speaks with the voice of a man twice his age, peppered with a wry sort of humour. Jorg might be one psychotic teenager but, as his story unravels, you understand why and you find the maniacal killer’s personality is just one of many masks he’s wearing. He doesn’t beat about the bush what sort of person he became since leaving his father’s castle and his honesty is sometimes chilling to the bone but we are shown glimpses of his softer side as well. He says:
“Before the thorns taught me their sharp lessons and bled weakness from me I had but one brother, and I loved him well. But those days are gone and what is left of them lies in my mother’s tomb. Now I have many brothers, quick with knife and sword, and as evil as you please. We ride this broken empire and loot its corpse. They say these are violent times, the end of days when the dead roam and monsters haunt the night. All that’s true enough, but there’s something worse out there, in the dark. Much worse.”
And one more, much darker quote:
“For the longest time I studied revenge to the exclusion of all else. I built my first torture chamber in the dark vaults of imagination. Lying on bloody sheets in the Healing Hall I discovered doors within my mind that I’d not found before, doors that even a child of nine knows should not be opened. Doors that never close again. I threw them wide.”
A sweetie, isn’t he? Warped but also relatable, taking everything into account.
The narration is solid, fast-flowing, logical and incredibly dynamic with some flashback chapters now and then. I usually don’t like flashbacks but, as the author kept them germane to the main narration and, as they are still told from Prince Jorg’s POV, they didn’t distract me too much, helping to understand the main storyline better.
It is definitely not one of those high fantasy novels where good characters are beautiful, chivalrous and noble (preferably with blond hair, many interesting trinkets and nice clothes on) and bad characters are mendacious, ugly, flesh-eating monsters. Don’t expect much romance and love either – there is a hint or two, but no more. It is an advantage – romance doesn’t fit this story at all. Overall the book is a gritty, momentarily very dark read. Small wonder – the author, not unlike George R.R. Martin (the author of ASOIAF series), clearly modelled some parts of it on the Hundred Years’ War – a series of battles waged from 1337 to 1453 by the House of Valois and the House of Plantagenet (also known as the House of Anjou) for the French throne, which had become vacant upon the extinction of the senior Capetian line of French kings. These were truly horrible times – only in France that conflict, along with deadly epidemics, famine and marauding mercenary armies, which often turned to banditry, reduced the population by about one-half.
Accordingly, something is rotten in the state of Ancrath, a small kingdom surrounded by many other petty realms with their own petty rulers and tyrants. Without any real central government the land, apart from the main cities, is basically fair game for villains of different sorts. Small wonder our young hero is as cold as a steel dagger and he thinks nothing of plundering, burning, raping, beheading and torturing mostly innocent people as long as it furthers his aims. In fact he can be easily called an anti-hero – you might pity him but you can’t condone the bloodthirsty violence he decided to employ just to settle his score with Count Renar and the world at large. He craves vengeance not justice because he no longer believes in the latter.
The world building I found very original although a bit puzzling too. Magic is one part of it but not in usual way – don’t expect mighty wizards hurling balls of fire at each other. Also if you think that the book is set in a kind of Medieval Ages alternate reality, you will be forced to rethink that assumption from time to time. Prince Jorg tells us that he was taught Latin and Greek and has read Plato, Socrates and Euclid but he also quotes Shakespeare and Nietzsche… he fights with a sword and a crossbow but he has been taught Japanese martial arts as well. The world around him is supposed to reflect the material culture of the 14th century but at the Red Castle we are shown some surprisingly advanced AI technology along with a device which might be an equivalent of an atomic bomb…
What I didn’t like:
Almost no major issues but there was one thing which made me seriously wonder – how can a boy of just 12-13 lead a group of very adult and very nasty bandits? How can a sheltered child of ten, even after a very distressing and ground-shattering experience, turn into a cold-blooded psychopath and a charismatic leader during just a year or two? I would have less doubts if Prince Honorous Jorg Ancrath wasn’t castle-born and bred; it would also help if he was a tad older. I must admit the way it was presented, the whole premise sounded a bit preposterous. Seeing the raising wave of crime perpetrated by children I am perhaps wrong and/or overly optimistic, though.
I recommend it to every dark fantasy fan. It was a truly spectacular book and I loved it very much but if you don’t feel comfortable with violence and killing in every chapter you might find it too gritty for your taste. Still it is definitely worth reading. I only hope the second installment will be as good as this one or even better – I am looking forward to the solutions of some mysteries left intact so far (Jorg’s daddy is a shifty customer and those dream-witches!).