I was a massive fan of Mark Lawrence's The Broken Empire trilogy; it had brutally honest, raw and sadistic protagonist in Jorg, a dry, witty brand of humour and was one of the most well executed settings of post-apocalyptic Earth I have encountered.
With his latest novel, Prince of Fools, Lawrence decided there was more to be found within the world of The Broken Empire and we follow the journey of the somewhat cowardly Prince Jal, which occurs alongside the events of the original trilogy - we even get a glimpse of some of our favourite characters as they cross paths with Jal.
It is easy then for loyal readers to expect more of the same, in terms of both quality of writing and the feel of the story and characters themselves. It's perhaps a trial for every author who presents their first new work after the one that brought them acclaim and I have no doubt draws more scrutiny for it. For this reason I have spent a lot of time considering my opinion and how it has been hugely coloured by a comparison to the first trilogy. I think it really comes down to that they are inherently part of the same series, being a part of the same world and conflict.
My initial reaction was that Prince of Fools fell extremely short of The Broken Empire trilogy. Even though Prince Jal was a fully developed, stand alone character, he always felt like a watered-down Jorg to me. I think for Lawrence this was always going to be inescapable and is more a reflection on how powerful Jorg was, rather than on his ability to create a new protagonist.
The world-building, magic system and political intrigue were definitely not as strong as I felt Lawrence heavily depended on what had come before in previous novels, like Prince of Fools was piggy-backing on it's more burly cousin. The fact that in an indirect way Prince of Fools and The Broken Empire share the same conflict and antagonist also means that we as readers ultimately know how it ends. Yes, yes, your dead come back to life and The Dead King is coming, we know ... this for me was the biggest killer for the story.
It must be noted too though that that Prince of Fools is perhaps a smaller, quieter tale of a personal journey, rather than more of the epic, world changing events we experienced with Jorg.
Some elements were not handled as deftly as they could have been, with some jarring moments in the narrative. I have to admit that some instances were partially due to the awful formatting of the eARC I received, but one example is the introduction of the voices in Jal and Snorri's heads, which happens abruptly and unexpectedly, so much so that I turned back a few pages to see if I had missed something. The protagonists also seem to learn things and come to conclusions with little to no information, such as deducing who one of the villains is, which just seemed like a rushed plot convenience.
I am being quite critical but I now must say, trying to distance myself from comparisons, that I never once thought about not finishing Prince of Fools or anything of the sort. I still very much enjoyed Lawrence's style of writing and particularly, once again, his exemplary wit. Every time I think of 'the heir apparently not' I have a little giggle. It must also be noted that in some cases I am comparing one novel with a whole trilogy, which is really not fair.
I am interested to see where this story goes and how it and my opinions will develop and change over the coming books.
For other readers, I would recommend giving Prince of Fools a go if you read and enjoyed The Broken Empire trilogy, but not to simply expect another shot of Jorg and his cutthroat ways. For those who haven't read anything by Mark Lawrence, I would strongly suggest reading the first trilogy before this novel - even though they are standalone I think contextually the latter relies on the former.