Synopsis: For all her reign the Red Queen 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. Content with his role as a minor royal, Jal pretends that the hideous crone is not there. But war with the undead is coming, and the Red Queen has called on her family to defend the realm. Jal thinks that nothing that will affect him. He’s wrong..
Holly: It’s safe to say that we are huge fans of Mark Lawrence, with having loved & devoured The Broken Empire series & more recently, Red Sister. Red Sister being one of the top reads for us so far this year!
We were super excited to jump back in with The Red Queen’s War. Prince of Fools is another trilogy from Mark Lawrence, set within the same world as The Broken Empire trilogy, told concurrently to it with some crossover characters. But this is not The Broken Empire & Jalan is not Jorg. This story is about a very different kind of prince. Where Jorg was a sociopath, Jalan is a coward. Jorg is angry, Jalan is shallow. Prince Jalan Kendeth is the grandson of the Red Queen & is tenth in line to the throne. This is his story. And my, what a story it is!
How does Lawrence write such awful, loathsome characters & yet continue to make us fall in love with them? Jalan is such an egotistical prick & yet you can’t help but find him charismatic & interesting. Even relatable. If Jalan were a real person on the streets I would want to throat punch him. Yet Mark Lawrence weaves his genius all over these characters & I bloody love it! I mean, look at Jorg, for instance. HE IS THE WORST! Yet, there is something about him. Same with Jal. You end up in his corner, rooting for him. WHAT IS THIS SORCERY?!
He writes such multifaceted individuals. There is more to Jalan than meets the eye. Than Jal even gives himself credit for. And let’s not forget the other part of this tale, the Viking Snorri ver Snagason. He is a fantastic companion character to Jal’s ego. Snorri is a tragic hero of sorts. His story will stomp all over your heart, but he will also make you smile. The crackling chemistry between Jal & Snorri is absolutely brilliant!
Corey: Excitement levels for this series are certainly high, and right off the bat, it’s just everything I’d want in a fantasy novel. It has all the elements we’ve come to expect in a Mark Lawrence novel: the dry & scathing humor, lots of supernatural weirdness, and more than a little bit of outright horror. And yeah, there are more differences than similarities between Jorg & Jal, almost like opposite sides of the same coin. Trouble seems to find them in equal measures, but where Jorg goes looking for it, Jalan seems to have spent his life honing his ability to avoid conflict. Running away. Being a coward, by his own admission. So to see him inadvertently thrust into this great adventure tale is…fucking hilarious. And YES!!!! What a wonderful character Snorri is! Some of my favorite moments in the Broken Empire books were when Jorg had interactions with the Vikings. I had no idea that this series was going to feature so much in the way of Viking lore & culture, and I am delighted! I mean…DO WE NOT LOVE VIKINGS?!!!
Holly: WE DO!!! We fucking LOVE Vikings!
From the get-go this was different in tone. Far lighter & humorous, as opposed to the super gritty, with subtle humorous undertones, Broken Empire. Not going to lie, I did miss some of the viciously stabby goodness from The Broken Empire at first. But this just works. Much like the Silent Sister’s curse with the light & dark parts, there are these two different stories of Jorg & Jalan coming together naturally within this gloriously written universe. It really takes impeccable talent to tell such opposite stories that are happening at the same time. Mark Lawrence continues to awe me with the juxtaposition of his beautiful prose, paired with this dark & often morbid world. He is truly a masterful wordsmith. It’s just such a pleasure to read!
Corey: For sure, it’s definitely a bit lighter in tone, and there are a handful of moments that border on slapstick! And there’s also copious amounts of drinking going on, leading to even more comedic gold!
All the ways this ties into the Broken Empire trilogy are just incredible. The amount of care & detail that Lawrence has poured into this world is staggering. It’ll be interesting to see even more connections between the two trilogies as we continue on! It almost makes me want to reread the Broken Empire books RIGHT AWAY to see things from that side again!
Touching on your first comment, I think turning these otherwise unlikable characters into the heroes of the story really speaks to Lawrence’s gift as a storyteller. Jalan is rude, manipulative, cocky, petulant….and I fucking love him. I can’t wait to follow him on this journey!
Holly: I am so incredibly fascinated by this world Lawrence has created. This (somewhat SPOILER for those yet to read The Broken Empire trilogy) quasi-futuristic/post-apocalyptic/fantasy. We are swiftly immersed back into this world set many years ahead of our own. Once again, because Jalan & Jorg’s stories are told alongside each other, the Builders are mentioned. I can’t wait to find out more information about that time period. Well, I guess.. OUR time period in the books! These people that caused the collapse of civilization. I mean, fuck. There is so much more to discover! So many more stories that could be told in this complex universe. A Builders prequel, even? The possibilities are endless!
It truly is one of the most intriguing world’s in SFF that I have read in quite some time!
Corey: Not to get too hung up on the Viking element (then again, why not?), but I think one of the biggest additions to this world is Snorri’s backstory & POV. The transitions between Jal’s first-person POV and Snorri’s third-person POV are beautiful & seamless, and really draw the reader even further into this world. Like you said, there is so much more to discover, and with everything Snorri’s perspective has to offer, it’s a huge part of Lawrence’s world that’s being explored in this book.
Holly: That’s the thing. Much like the Road Brothers, I would absolutely love a standalone Snorri novel!
There is so much depth to Snorri. Oh, how I adore him! He is this hardened courageous badass warrior Viking, pretty much the opposite of everything Jal is. They make for an unlikely duo, but what comes from their companionship & eventual friendship is nothing short of magical! They are like the grimdark version of Gimli & Legolas. Their interactions are such a joy to experience!
We learn of Snorri’s past during nights gathered around the campfire. And it’s.. it’s fucking tragic. But it’s also commendable that although he has this main goal of rescuing his family, he goes along on this save the world mission with Jalan, who is not exactly the most heroic person.
The hulking, vulnerable Viking truly is a fantastic addition to an already brilliantly penned cast of characters!
Corey: They really are the unlikeliest of friends, thrown together in this great adventure, bound by magic they can’t even begin to understand. Your LOTR mention is spot-on…this is shaping up to be the story of a truly epic quest, featuring a group of characters who may otherwise have never met if not for a set of dark & unusual circumstances. This is just as good a book one as you’re gonna get…great dialogue & character development, more & more worldbuilding in a world we already love, some brutal action sequences, dark magic, and of course…REANIMATED CORPSES! It’s just an exciting & vivid start to what’s shaping up to be another masterful series by Mark Lawrence!